Food & Drink

Labor of Love

Spike Gjerde plays with fire.

Much as he helped revitalize the Woodberry area of Hampden with Woodberry Kitchen, Spike Gjerde has transformed a blighted block of Remington into gastronomic gold with his latest farm-to-fork venture Parts & Labor. From inside this former car- and tire-repair shop, Gjerde has created a menu of cured meats, pork chops, and sausages cooked on an open hearth built of reclaimed Baltimore City cobblestones. It’s clear from the concept that the James Beard award finalist has a thing for the past. His idea—unfussy preparations all employing an element of open fire—harkens back to simpler times, but he’s put his own unmistakable Spike spin on it, continuing his commitment to engage with the agricultural economy of the Chesapeake region. (Even the
utensils—coming from Liberty in Sherrill, NY, the only U.S. manufacturer of stainless-steel flatware—have a local-as-possible provenance here.)

The front of the space features a nostalgic butcher shop with a wide selection of locally sourced meats such as pork from Whistle Pig Hollow and beef from Liberty Delight Farms. To further the feel, shelves are stocked with Gjerde’s house-made pickled and canned goods and handmade beeswax candles.

All of this, of course, is a preamble to the homey, hipster dining space with an equal amount of high-top communal tables and private booths. So when our hostess asks if we’d like to sit at a community table, we feel slightly misanthropic saying, “No.” Still, we are ushered past the heat of the hearth and settle into our private booth with a great view of the bustling bar area showcasing 20 brews on tap (from stouts to India pale ales) and a so-called growler station where they sell craft beer, lots of it local, to go.

It’s clear from the concept that the James Beard award finalist has a thing for the past.

Meat is the mainstay of the menu here, and butchering is practiced as high art. That’s not surprising when you consider that George Marsh, Gjerde’s head butcher is, in fact, a former art student. These days, he practices his craft in the form of whole-animal butchery, utilizing every part of the animal, which means there are cuts of meat represented here that you won’t find on other area menus.

While dry-aged cuts, including bottom blade (shoulder) and cattleman’s (beef knuckle), as well as organ meats (pig tail and blood sausage) and cured meats (garlic salami), are showcased, it’s a true testament to the kitchen’s deft touch that even vegetarians are flocking to Parts & Labor for seasonal salads and vegetable sides.

With the help of our server Nate (total Best-of contender), who helped guide us through unfamiliar fare, we started with a round of appetizers. We could have made a meal of the creamy cave-aged blue cheese paired with sour-cherry jam and a baguette made in Woodberry’s oven. The spicy cheese snack—in which grated cheddar and house-made cream cheese play off pickled onions and fish peppers—was equally flavorful, and the kale salad tossed with beets, strawberries, and house-made apple dressing was spring personified on a plate.

Even the meat entrees—served sliced—are meant for sharing, which adds to the communal vibe. Though the inventive sandwiches tempted us—a pork chop on a pretzel bun sounded promising, for example—we stuck with a robustly flavorful culotte steak and a buttery tri-tip. Both dishes were accompanied by an assertive herb-onion relish that gave great kick to the mellower meat. For even more palate punching, a bottle of house-made “Snake Oil” (fish pepper, cider, and sea salt) was served on the side.

The most adventurous among us ordered the Pride & Joy, a medley of pork skirt and kidney, strewn with fish peppers, toasted garlic, and cilantro with lettuce for wrapping. The plate—clean in no time—spoke for itself.

As every side arrived—grilled or griddled on the hearth—we proclaimed each one our favorite. In the final analysis, however, the griddled potatoes, crisp-crusted and screamingly hot from the grill, as well as stewed wood-ash hominy flecked with Anaheim peppers and tomatoes, were the clear winners.

Though the meal could have been heavy, we took the tapas approach, saving space for dessert. The quality and consistency of most everything we ate carried through to the final finish. The real dessert dazzler was a strawberry-rhubarb pie, offering lip-puckering tartness balanced by a blanket of sweet crumble.

By meal’s end, as every one of the 84 seats in the house was taken, our only lament was that a 7 p.m. reservation in a private booth was not going to be easy to score again. Next time around, we vowed, we’re willing to commune with everyone else.

PARTS & LABOR 2600 N. Howard St., Baltimore, 443-873-8887.
HOURS Dinner: Sun.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 5-11 p.m. 
CUISINE Farm-to-table with an emphasis on hearth-cooked meat.
PRICE Appetizers: $2-14; entrees: $9-25; desserts: $4-8.
ATMOSPHERE Farm chic in a rehabbed automotive shop.