Food & Dining: 4 Bells
It’s been two long years of looking from Loring Park to the perfect patio at the former Joe’s Garage and longing to lounge there with a cocktail. Finally, 4 Bells has opened its doors to a collective cheer from the neighborhood. It was 2013 when the restaurant announced its closing and that the Butcher & the Boar team would reopen with a new concept. Enough time has passed that there have been plenty of staffing changes, a shift in concept, and a major renovation has transformed the building from the (sub)floor up.
Now helming the kitchen is Butcher & the Boar’s former chef Brendan McDonald. McDonald is well-versed in the ways of the meat, but the chef takes 4 Bells inspiration from South Carolina’s Low-Country for this menu. What this means for us diners is a whole slew of fresh seafood, plenty of Old Bay, and piles of fried chicken.
The reason for the delay in opening was that the historic building required much gentle jack-hammering (yes, that’s a thing). A new basement was dug and the walls were taken down to their bare brick. What has been rebuilt allows for lower level outdoor seating, a sleek bar, a back semi-private dining area, and an elegant open kitchen lined with wide bar stools. These might just be the most coveted seats when the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor dining. The room twists, turns and harbors three different kitchens. Upstairs there are gorgeous wood tables awaiting private occasions and the rooftop has been remade from a literal flat rooftop with a few tables and chairs to an all-season dining area — a sister seating to Butcher & the Boar’s beer garden.
In the back alley, a walk-up window has been added, along with more seating that will eventually be open for late night grab-and-go.
An initial tasting of the menu is a briny, Old Bay-perfumed delight. Freshly shucked oysters, clams, shrimp, and lobster are all available au natural, lightly dressed, or gently cooked. The seafood cocktail is a fun and sloppy starter of ocean-cooled seafood swimming in a house-mixed cocktail sauce, served with saltine crackers baked by the kitchen. Oysters Rockefeller are given an updated tweak with the benefit of chicken fat and sourdough breadcrumbs.
The sides are dishes to delight your inner child, like pimento mac and cheese, cauliflower au gratin (remember Mom said to eat those vegetables), and skinny, salty French fries. All work as excellent happy hour pairings with the extensive cocktail list. There are tonics on tap, sophisticated shooters (that are worth savoring), and party-time punches. A legacy of sharing DNA with Butcher & the Boar is that the bourbon drinks might just be the best.
That aforementioned fried chicken is gunning for Revival’s top spot (and might fall slightly short). Pressure-fried to seal in the juices, the seasoning is just a touch flat. That minor criticism aside, the dish is served with a positively addictive watermelon hot sauce that is available for augmenting any dish you like for an additional 50 cents.
Chef McDonald is stretching beyond the grilled meats he’s done so well, and showing some sophistication with dishes like the baby octopus salad. There is a subtle confidence in the tender meat mixed in with fresh greens, a bright chili-spiked vinaigrette, and fried hearts of palm.
Service was sometimes a little green, still getting used to the space, menu, and the what-goes-where of any new job. However, all questions were answered with a welcome enthusiasm. If our server couldn’t answer right away, the person who could help was immediately tracked down. For diners with dietary concerns, they do have a book that clearly denotes which dishes are safe to order if you’re gluten-free, dairy intolerant, etc.
At press time, not all kitchens were yet open, not all the spaces were serving. After all this time, 4 Bells is in no hurry to open all, but instead taking the time to get this right.
1610 Harmon Place