Asked about what he sees coming from his like-minded peers in Chicago, Merges says, “Our food scene will rival any city in the U.S.”
This diner already thinks that it does.
A salami’s toss from one of Chicago’s early and best gastropubs, Publican in the West Loop, Publican Quality Meats was originally hatched as a way to support the busy restaurant, a second kitchen. By the time it opened in February, the offshoot had grown to be a butcher shop, a lunch stop, a retail space and a bakery.
“Thank you for coming for our childhood!” a manager says to me as he escorts two chow hounds to a long blond table next to a bank of refrigerator cases in the trim cafe. The coolers, stocked with lard and kimchi, speak to the open-minded cook. The slim menu is mostly sandwiches that you wouldn’t make at home: beef tongue and marinated eggplant on rye, for instance, and lamb and pork belly sausage slipped into a lobster roll. Many of the meats in the storefront originate in the spotless basement kitchen, near the restrooms, which is how I got to see blood sausage being cranked out one recent weekend.
Potbelly this isn’t. Buy a muffuletta, and you get a rethought version of the New Orleans signature: olive oil-poached albacore tuna, tonnato sauce and cabbage in sturdy but pillowy slices of bread. Chicken Parmesan, served with tomato sauce and packaged in ciabatta, summons up an Italian mama. (That gentle crackle? Fried sage.) Side dishes include a crunchy raw kale salad that I vow to toss at home. “The key to that is to massage” lemon, honey and chili into the sturdy greens, head chef Chris Kuziemko, 34, later shares over the telephone. “Give it some love.”
“You can’t rest on your laurels,” says Kuziemko, whose meat display contains dry-aged rib-eye, blood mortadella, best-selling chicken liver pâtéand mica, a pleasantly funky sausage fermented in rye flour. “You can’t get complacent.” No baloney.
Publican Quality Meats’ theme extends to restrooms wallpapered with designs of butcher knives and charcuterie-friendly, occasionally beefy, drinks. Order a bloody mary, and the eye-opener comes with a jaw-dropper: a “garnish” of cornichon, olive, cheese and sausage.
825 W. Fulton Market St. 312-445-8977. publicanqualitymeats.
com. Sandwiches, $8 to $12.