It Started With An Onion….
Cooking course sets dream for specialty restaurant
By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette
The Butcher Block Market & Café, located at 319 N. Beaton Street (an homage to the Third Avenue Meat Market, the building’s previous occupant), provides a unique take on the dining experience.
Owner Susan Hale’s restaurant is part dine-in experience, part specialty grocery store, where diners can select from choice cuts of specialty meats, unique varieties of cheese, or select from an ever-rotating variety of “grab and go” prepared foods to spend less time in the kitchen and more time eating.
As with so many other local business owners, Hale didn’t anticipate a global pandemic as being one of the factors to delay her launch. Regardless, she worked with what she had while adapting to new health and safety guidelines, holding a soft opening by handing out free gelato samples throughout March before finally opening April 25.
“It’s been challenging keeping up with the regulations,” Hale said. “What are we supposed to be doing, when do we wear a mask, how far apart do people have to be, and what can we do differently.”
Hale has been part of Corsicana’s local community since 2004, having moved here with her father who had an Orkin Pest Control franchise in town. As time passed, Hale began to become involved in the community and the people who live in town.
“Once you’re involved and once you’re working here and you fall in love with it, then you want to stay,” Hale said.
A mother of an active 9-year old daughter, when Hale is not at home reading, gardening, or relearning to play the piano, she’s working on new recipes for her restaurant.
Hale’s interest in food came about as the result of her sister-in-law, having been gifted cooking classes at a kitchenware store. One of the first things taught to the students was how to chop an onion, a lesson Susan shares in her own restaurant.
“When we do our cooking classes here, I teach them how to chop the onion that way,” Hale said. “And you should see people’s mind just get blown.”
To show her point, Hale led the interview behind the counter and into the kitchen, where she showed off those skills. After a few strategic cuts, the onion fell apart, finely diced and ready to be included in any of the day’s recipes.
Those early classes sparked an interest in cooking for Hale. After she completed college, her graduation gift consisted of All-Clad pans and Wüsthof knives.
“It’s always been something I’ve been passionate about,” Hale said, “But never on the level of wanting to have a restaurant.”
Hale credits her father for getting her into the restaurant business as well as staying in Corsicana.
“Getting into the restaurant business was crazy because my dad bought the old Hashop’s and just said ‘Okay! I want to have a restaurant’,” Hale recalled. “And I really begged him not to open a restaurant, and then I rather enjoyed it, and I was pretty good at it.”
After her father’s restaurant closed, Hale decided that she eventually wanted to start her own place in town to serve local diners.
“When this opportunity came up, I just thought I had to do it.”
As a standard practice, starting a new business presents its own sense of challenges. Hale’s circumstances were even more challenging. Shelter in place guidelines were in full effect throughout Corsicana, and local and chain restaurants were having to reinvent themselves by offering curbside services or home deliveries. Hale had plans to open the Butcher Block during the spring, but the opening date kept getting pushed back. Like any performer ready to make their debut, however, she knew the show must go on.
“In a small town like Corsicana, when a new restaurant opens up, everybody just goes to the new restaurant,” Hale said. “But because we got started during COVID, we started really small and just continued to expand.”
While Dallas diners have long been familiar with ready made food options in places such as Eatzi’s, the convenience of “grab and go” meal options is a new feature for Corsicana diners. Hale said people new to the concept have responded well due to the convenience factor.
“Our stuff is homemade,” Hale said. “And we’re saving you from having to heat up your kitchen and getting things figured out, or even having to go to the grocery store. You just come in, grab something for dinner, and it’s made with love.”
Hale’s recipes come from years of her own family’s cooking, friend suggestions, and her own personal experimentation. The three people in the Butcher Block’s kitchen each lend their own specific talents: Joey provides the spicy Mexican-inspired flair, Jason, originally from New York, creates the pasta dishes, and Susan creates the more traditional American cuisine. Meals for the next week are planned out every Wednesday based off seasonal and customer response.
“We all have a place in the kitchen,” Hale said. “We all do our own different thing, but everybody knows how to do everything.”
Recent favorites have been homemade creamy pesto, pimento cheese, risotto, and chicken salad, the latter Hale said about 40 pounds of the regularly offered dish went out the door in the past week. For vegetarians, vegans, gluten free, and Keto diet needs, The Butcher Block also offers options to meet their diets.
For any extra food during the week, Hale said she offers meals to the less privileged families in town if they’re hungry. Any extra leftover food after that is composted to make soil to grow the restaurant’s herbs for their pestos using condensation water collected from the kitchen’s refrigerator.
“It’s kinda cheesy, but it really is the full ‘Circle of Life’,” she laughed.
Hale is a big fan of recipes. One of her favorite cookbooks is How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, which she credits as how she learned to make sauces and give things flavor.
As of late October, the Butcher Block has expanded its dining options to provide full table service, adding new entrée items to its menu every day. Hale is looking forward to customers having a “normal” dining experience again, and she’s already busy designing holiday menus for the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. Hale also plans to expand her in-house cheese selection.
Additionally, Susan does teach cooking classes at The Butcher Block, which she recommends as a potential Christmas gift idea.
The first lesson learned, of course, is how to chop an onion.
Butcher Block Market & Café
319 N. Beaton Street
Monday-Friday: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.