When Chef Dave Mills opened Smoke & Pickles Artisan Butcher Shop in downtown Mechanicsburg, he wanted his store to be more than just where you grab that next cut
Smoke & Pickles combines a hometown butcher shop and quick-service restaurant into one culinary experience.
Mills will cut your steak, chops, roast or whatever you order, and then if you want, direct you on how to properly prepare your cut.
Or, you can skip the work at home and enjoy a meal in-house from their BBQ-style menu.
The butchery is in full view right behind the counter. On any given day you could see Mills and his team breaking down a whole hog or grinding fresh sausage for sale just days later.
Mills wants his shop and services to help people change the way they think about their food.
“I want people to come in an find something they haven’t before,” said Mills. “I want to help them learn about where their meat is coming from and to support local farmers doing things the right way.”
An inspirational trip
Mills, a chef of 25 years, has worked all over the northeast. He has cooked in corporate kitchens from Connecticut to Maryland, around New York and Long Island before settling in Mechanicsburg 10 years ago.
For the last five years, he has taught full-time in HACC’s Culinary Program and also led their study abroad trips.
It was on his first European trip that he had his initial “a-ha” moment meeting internationally-known chef and butcher, Dario Cecchini.
Cecchini recently was featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table and is renowned for using the “nose-to-tail” philosophy in his Panzano restaurant.
“We went into this little town in the middle of Tuscany and it was the only thing in town and we needed lunch,” said Mills. “We walked in and AC/DC was blasting, he handed me a water glass full of Chianti, and Tuscan or Chianti butter as he calls it.”
Mills said that experience combined with seeing how the food was so different in Europe was amazing.
“I wanted to get involved with the food system in this area along with working at HACC and being the board chairman for the American Culinary Federation,” said Mills. “I really wanted to do something different but didn’t know what that was.”
Then, another encounter with Cecchini at a show in York gave him his answer.
“We left the show that day and I told my wife that I had to do this and that I wanted to open a butcher shop,” said Mills. “She said ‘A butcher shop, but you’re a chef?’ but she’s been nothing but supportive.”
Nothing to waste
From the snout to the tail, if it comes into Smoke & Pickles, it gets used in some way.
Mills even takes the bones to make stock and then smokes them for dog treats and uses the beef tallow (rendered-fat) in their fryer for chips and fries.
“It’s all about whole animal utilization,” said Mills. “That’s a huge piece of what we want to do here. We want to bring that European-style butcher shop to this area.”
If it doesn’t go in the case to sell to shoppers, it’s going on the menu.
On the menu
Mills describes his menu as “kicked-up American BBQ,” and everything at Smoke & Pickles is made in-house.
“We make the bread for the buns, sauces, sausages, and cure the bacon all right here with no perservatives,” said Mills.
Since he doesn’t want anything to go to waste, Mills also takes into account what will and won’t sell in the butcher shop.
One example is their Screaming Eagle Chicken Sandwich. Mills’ favorite dish on the menu, and it’s not hard to see why he loves it.
“People don’t buy thigh meat as much as they would breast, so instead of it going to waste, we bread it and fry it for the sandwich,” said Mills.
The shop’s best-seller is a 1/3 pound burger with bacon ground right in topped with lettuce, red onion, garlic aioli, and a fried tomato appropriately names The Mechanicsburger.
Other daily items include The Smoker pulled pork sandwich and Not Your Pappa’s Hot Dog.
Smoke & Pickles also has weekly specials and a brunch special that changes every Sunday.
Smoke & Pickles is BYOB and also offers non-alcoholic drinks.
Mills wants Smoke & Pickles to be a place where customers can explore and experience their food options.
“I don’t want people to be afraid to ask questions,” said Mills. “With me being a chef and a butcher, I am able to walk them through preparing what they are buying based on their skill level.”
To continue that education, Mills plans to add several regular butchering and sausage-making classes at Smoke & Pickles along with hosted events.
He also wants to ensure quality above all else.
“Everything here is pasture-raised and comes from local farms,” said Mills. “It’s very important for me to go to every farm to make sure the animals are healthy and well cared for.”
Mills doesn’t hide it either. He has a chalkboard behind the counter that highlights the farm each animal came from and what breed it is.
To keep the community involved, Mills has a pretty large staff of 18 people working in all manner of jobs.
Hannah Groft, a current student of Mills’ at HACC, is one of his cooks.
“Working here has been awesome because I’ve learned so much,” said Groft. “It makes you really proud to see the process from start to finish.”