Rochester is not without its share of watering holes. But something makes ButaPub different. Not only does it turn out well-executed, Asian-influenced gastropub food, it does so without an attitude. No one is going to look at you askance if you've never heard of gochujang. If you're deciding between a couple of on tap beers, you'll cheerfully get some samples to taste. And it's completely fine if you opt for a bacon cheeseburger with addictively crisp, seasoned fries ($13) instead of the half-roasted pig head ($75 with fixings). "It's food that keeps me happy and keeps me interested," says Asa Mott, chef and owner. "And we're totally accessible."
To help make ButaPub even more attractive, General Manager and Events Coordinator Evan Pierce keeps things active. A variety of bands play throughout the week, everything from jazz or bluegrass to hip-hop, and Pierce asserts that ButaPub hosts the largest local gathering of Geeks Who Drink, a pub quiz game. "We want to be a place for the neighborhood to come together," Pierce says.
Between events, the food, and of course, drinks, that's not hard to do. The drink menu is robust, with 20-plus bourbons, more than 15 rye and Irish whiskeys, and an assortment of vodkas and gins, in addition to beer, wine, and ciders. Drink specials change with the season. On one of my visits, a late summer watermelon and mint margarita ($9) was served in a short tumbler and garnished with mint. The faded pink drink, flecked with watermelon pulp, was light and refreshing; its sweetness balanced by a very smooth Espolon silver tequila.
The menu is a mix of kicked-up pub standards and Asian-influenced dishes. Popcorn ($3) is drizzled with butter and tossed with furikake, a Japanese seasoning made with seaweed, dried fish, and sesame seeds. While it's difficult to pinpoint the different flavor components, the furikake gives the popcorn a distinctly Asian kick.
Okonomiyaki ($12) is a savory Japanese-style pancake packed with fillings, including bacon, shrimp, cabbage, and corn. It looks a bit like a giant crab cake: 2-1/2 inches tall, as large as a dessert plate, and with a darkly seared crust and paler interior. The Okonomiyaki is topped with a fried egg, lightly caramelized onions, and fennel fronds, so each bite is a mix of flavors and textures — the snap of the crust yielding to a tender middle, richness from a runny yolk, a pleasant funk from bonito flakes.
My favorite menu item, though, is the Korean fried chicken. The kitchen starts each piece with a long soak in a brine heavy with aromatics. The chicken is then tossed with cornstarch and allowed to dry, then takes a second dip into a tempura-like batter made with flour and cornstarch. In the fryer, the chicken's coating browns, and gets crispy and craggy. To keep that lovely crust intact, one of three sauces — gochujang, soy-garlic, or Arrogant Bastard beer BBQ glaze — are brushed on.
The chicken wings ($11 dinner appetizer) are hefty, as if the birds spent time in the yard pumping iron. The wings are heavy with juicy meat, and the crust has a satisfying crunch. The soy-garlic sauce has a familiar pan-Asian flavor, starting sweet before turning spicy. Just as good is the gochujang, a thick, red chili paste made with fermented soybeans and glutinous rice, that adds heat, umami, and sweetness. A sprinkling of sesame seeds and chopped scallions not only round out the flavor, but catch the eye. On Wednesdays, ButaPub features a Wing and Whiskey special, where wings are $1 each with a six-wing minimum and whiskey is $1 off.
The Korean fried half-chicken entrée ($18) consists of four robust pieces of chicken prepped in the same way as the wings and just as delightful. It's served with a side of kimchi, bracingly delicious thinly-sliced pickles, and a mound of white rice flecked with black sesame seeds.
New to Butapub is an expanded dessert menu, coffee — with brewing skills from Pour Coffee —and the Pig Skin, Pig Head special: a takeout order of wings, a roasted pig head, and house made steamed buns to enjoy while watching a game.
As for the name: it's pronounced "BOOTA-pub," and comes from the Japanese word for pig: "buta." Though its website claims it's "nothing but a pub," Butapub is much more than that.
Find Laura Rebecca Kenyon on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest @LauraKenyon, and dig through her recipe archive at LauraRebeccasKitchen.com.