Chef Roger Meier’s grab-and-go revolution is simply satisfying.
Text by Rebecca Pike
Image by Jonas Maon
I had two recurring thoughts while devouring my hand-pulled mozzarella and macadamia nut pesto caprese sandwich, the savory herbed focaccia soft yet miraculously not soggy beneath fresh Kawamata Farms tomatoes and Fat Law’s Farm sweet basil. The first was of mozzarella basketballs bobbing in vats at Italian delis manned by first-generation immigrants in New York City’s West Village. The second was of the poor saps trudging down the streets of Honolulu with paper sacks from fast-food stops. One can only pray that they’ll discover The Baker & Butcher soon.
The menu at Baker & Butcher is simple enough to sample everything in a matter of two business weeks, choose favorites, and rotate regularly. The BLT is a love song to pork belly with house-cured-and-smoked Shinsato Farm bacon; the “Butcher’s Cut” signature sandwich has tri-tip steak, grilled shitake mushrooms, and silky cooked onions. All of the carefully prepared fillings are nestled in house-baked breads.
Chef Meier himself is a man of extremes. He is both butcher and baker. He is at once very buttoned-up and genuinely warm. The bulk of his professional kitchen experience has been at Michelin-starred Bay Area eateries (Spruce and The Village Pub, to name just two), but he chooses to make paper-wrapped sandwiches that sell for six to eight bucks. The landscape of his personal history ranges from his family’s Colorado ranch to Ismir, Turkey to San Francisco, and now, Hawai‘i. He loves the farthest opposite tips of Oahu. To the west, it’s Ka‘ena Point: “When I need to release a huge burden, I go there and it just feels right to me.” On the east side, it’s Makapu‘u: “Specifically the tide pools; that’s a very spiritually cleansing place to me.”
Though he is buoyant in the present, Meier’s past remains an important influence in his priorities. His time in the U.S. Air Force ran parallel to a progression of changes that deeply affected gay members of the military. The memories keep him passionate in his activism for AIDS charities and the continuing quest for equal rights. “We were not accepted,” Meier remembers. “There were witch hunts where we were thrown out dishonorably.” The Clinton administration declared “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”—a finger in the face, he recalls.
“For me, as a gay man, it’s really critical to put back into my community. They’ve given me a lot, and it’s taken years to get from some really strange back rooms in society to where we are. The more we have behind us, the further we can go. And the further we go, the more society will understand who we are.”
Hawai‘i is still evolving into a place where the law reflects what is correct and true, with equality and respect for all (though historians attest to the ancient Native Hawaiians’ acceptance of diversity in gender identity and sexuality). A relative newcomer to the islands, Meier is inspired by the state’s multiculturalism and vibrancy of nature. “I will be staying,” he says surely. “My taproot is down, and I think I’m sinking deeper roots. And The Baker & Butcher is the culmination of that.”
The Baker and Butcher is located in downtown Honolulu at 1111 Bishop St. #112. For more information, call 808-537-4140.