Prize Pork 

Restaurants with charcuterie

The Girl & the Goat

The Girl & the Goat

Avec

615 W. Randolph | 312-377-2002

$$$

MEDITERRANEAN, SMALL PLATES | DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 1, other nights till midnight | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

At first, sitting on a bench between strangers in this cedar-lined, saunalike room makes me feel a little apprehensive, like I'm wrapped in naught but a sweaty towel. But as the wine flows and the evening grows long, everyone's gabbing like pals, offering around bits of robust cheese or chorizo-stuffed dates and dredging juices off empty plates with warm rustic bread. Chef Koren Grieveson's Mediterranean "peasant" food is paired with an ever intriguing and ever changing selection of uncommon wines and cheeses, many of which are as unforgettable as the Spanish sheep's-milk torta del casar, a powerful molten gob of delicious funk that may forever remain my benchmark for strong queso (if only because I couldn't seem to wash the smell from my fingers). There's a daily salumi plate, and the chefs make excellent and varied use of the wood-burning oven, firing up everything from focaccia and pisaladiere to roast chicken and pork shoulder. And it never ceases to amaze me how combining just two or three seasonal ingredients can be, in the right hands, a kind of alchemy. —Mike Sula

Big Jones

5347 N. Clark | 773-275-5725

$$$

CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL, SOUTHERN/SOUL FOOD | LUNCH: MONDAY-FRIDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SATURDAY & SUNDAY BRUNCH

Paul Fehribach, former chef at Schubas' Harmony Grill, has turned this space into an airy, minimalist dining room distinguished by floor-to-ceiling windows and wrought-iron chandeliers. Like those chandeliers, the menu gives a little wave to the French Quarter. The cocktail list is full of daiquiris, hurricanes, and nicely balanced Sazeracs—including one with absinthe—and the menu includes crawfish-boudin croquettes and a rich and smoky gumbo with chicken and andouille. Most items are made in-house, from chorizo to tasso and headcheese to pickles. I didn't try the sandwiches but I wish I had: at a neighboring table a sizable Tallgrass beef burger with fontina and aioli was provoking groans of happiness. And the fresh, clean flavors of a simple house salad got my friend to sit up and take notice. All in all Big Jones seems to be striving to fuse the accoutrements of upscale dining with the down-home soul of country cooking. When it works, the results are stellar, both sophisticated and bone-deep satisfying. —Martha Bayne

The Bluebird

1749 N. Damen | 773-486-2473

$$

BAR/LOUNGE, SMALL PLATES, CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL | DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 2 | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

This late-night lounge/wine bar/gastropub from the owners of Webster's Wine Bar is a pleasantly understated space, outfitted in a sort of rustic-minimalist vein, with tables made from old wine casks and stools reminiscent of high school chem lab. On a Sunday night at least, it's a nice mellow scene. For the most part the starters are great—lots of cured meats and funky cheeses, salads, flatbreads, and so on. The classic frites, simultaneously crispy and floppy and served with little cups of addictive curried ketchup and garlic aioli, are no-brainer perfection. The seasonal menu features dishes like ale-braised rabbit with mushrooms, bacon, and Manchego served on fettuccine and wild-caught whitefish with braised leeks, sauteed spinach, and chipotle cream sauce. By-the-glass options we tried from the wine list were excellent, and the extensive beer list is sophisticated and heavy on the Belgians. —Martha Bayne

The Bristol

2152 N. Damen | 773-862-5555

$$$

CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL, BAR/LOUNGE | DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SUNDAY BRUNCH | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL MIDNIGHT | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

The seasonal menu at chef Chris Pandel's beercentric the Bristol promises interesting variety at accessible prices, like a perfect pairing of grilled mackerel and romaine in the Caesar or "Scotch olives," a mutation of a Scotch egg and Italian olives all'Ascolana (fat green olives stuffed with pork and veal and deep-fried). Challenges are even more evident on the daily chalkboard menu, where snout-to-tail items beyond pork belly or the increasingly common headcheese put the Bristol in the growing class of restaurants catering to the public's curiosity about the fifth quarter and other uncommon proteins. It's indicative of Pandel's guts that he's unafraid to leave the foot on a roasted half chicken; a supper-club-style relish plate special with potted salmon and beer cheese featured beets with a sprinkling of grated bottarga, the delicious, famously funky cured roe of a mullet. If these dishes still sound fearsome, there's plenty here to feed the timid—duck-fat fries, a burger—and the beer list is deep and fascinating, with lots of large-format bottles and unusual choices. Since its opening two years ago the Bristol's been joined by many others of its ilk, but no matter—this is the kind of neighborhood beer hall everyone deserves to have within walking distance. —Mike Sula

Gilt Bar

230 W. Kinzie | 312-464-9544

$$$

BAR/LOUNGE, SMALL PLATES | dinner: TUESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED SUNDAY, MONDAY | open Late: Saturday till 2:30, tuesday-Friday till 1:30

River North's Gilt Bar is only the latest in a long line of new restaurants testing the limits of how much gastropubbery the market can bear. More than two years after the Bristol and the Publican broke this ground, communal tables, shared plates, odd meats, and beer, beer, beer are everywhere, and if you haven't had enough I have some marrow bones I can sell you at a 150 percent markup. Chef-owner Brendan Sodikoff spent quality time under the wings of Thomas Keller and Alain Ducasse in his early career, but his more recent assignments as corporate chef for Lettuce Entertain You and then in the kitchen of LEYE spawn Hub 51 didn't inspire much confidence that Gilt would be anything more than a late leap onto a departing bandwagon. But maybe I should give it a pass. Gilt is decidedly less beer-, pork-, and organ-focused than many of its gastropeers, and there are enough simple, well-prepared, and fairly inexpensive dishes here to make me hope it can break the curse on the space that killed the likes of Pili Pili and Aigre Doux. There are plenty of nods in the expected directions, but the meaty options don't get much more threatening than a pot of a six-inch-long marrow bone split lengthwise, which despite its unnervingly human appearance is actually a very satisfying presentation: two convenient troughs with easy access to the precious meat jelly inside. A selection of small, inexpensive vegetable plates tips the balance toward plant eaters. In a couple cases I found myself rebelling against Sodikoff's minimalist approach and using them as add-ins for simply executed but one-dimensional pastas: fluffy brown-butter ricotta gnocchi became a different and better dish when I tossed on some of the tart, clovey red cabbage slaw. When it comes to dessert, again, simplicity rules: in addition to sundaes with house-made ice cream and diner-style pies there are terrific versions of basics like brownies and blondies. —Mike Sula

Girl & the Goat

809 W. Randolph | 312-492-6262

$$$

CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL, BAR/LOUNGE | DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY midnight, other nights till 11

Stephanie Izard never had anything to prove to Chicago. Long before she conquered Top Chef, she was mistress of her domain at Bucktown's Scylla. Still, during the interminable two-year wait between her Season Four win and the opening of Girl & the Goat, she rode the rapids of a relentless if entertaining hype stream punctuated by tweets, blog posts, and innumerable public events, which only served to heighten the anxiety: would Steph really pull it off? But the second you spin through the revolving doors of her Randolph Row restaurant, you're blasted with a besotting roasty meatgust issuing from the wood oven at the back of the room. And there in the rear, backlit by kitchen light and open flame, is the Top Chef herself, sweating in front of the exposed line and expediting orders. The only indication she's anything more than a hardworking chef is the occasional snapshot break with grinning fans. Her line has put out some of my most memorable dishes of the year, as well as many very good ones, and only a few duds. The menu of rustic, shareable small plates, broken down into vegetable, fish, and meat categories, is strongly seasonal. Unorthodox but not offputting combinations are Izard's thing: shaved root vegetables and blueberries in anchovy-buttermilk dressing, smoked goat pizza with sour cherries. She's particularly fond of mammalian garnishes on fish dishes; on one visit, a hiramasa crudo sprinkled with crispy lardons and drizzled with Peruvian chile aioli was one of the most delicate things I put in my mouth. Most everything else was simply and appealingly arranged: snails and goat meatballs with romesco and bagna cauda nestled in a crock; shisito pepper roulette (one in ten will burn your face off) played out in a bowl, drizzled with creamy Parmesan-miso sauce. Committed restaurant-goers are by now comfortable with the whole beast, but Izard's efforts with the fifth quarter are truly original—the already notorious roasted pig face, slabs of luscious head meat stacked like pancakes with a fried egg on top and potato stix, being the exception. Though it's won most of the attention, the braised beef tongue with masa, salsa verde, and rough sauteed greens deserves more—like a Vietnamese banh mi, it's a beautiful orchestration of taste, texture, and temperature. The offal changes quite a bit: one night a dollop of deceptively light smoked, whipped fatback with biscuits and bourbon-soaked onions appeared, along with a plate of thin, steaky goat-heart satay with sweet local peaches and pleasantly bitter radicchio. Similarly, big goat rib roast and roasted veal legs come and go, and so does the changing bread service—which will cost you. This is my favorite new opening this year, only in small part because it's one of those rare instances where the hoopla is entirely justified. —Mike Sula

Longman & Eagle

2657 N. Kedzie | 773-276-7110

$$$

BAR/LOUNGE, CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL | BRUNCH, LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 2 | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

At Longman & Eagle the throngs are as apt to tie up the tables early Monday evening as they are late Friday night. The food's executed by Jared Wentworth, who picked up a Michelin star in the new Chicago guide. He seems as determined to ward off vegetarians and those of timid taste as he is to draw in fearless fellow chefs, who've taken advantage of the late hours to gather round the plates of onion-jelly-topped tall roasted marrow bones that fly out of the open galley. Wentworth's meat challenge goes on and on: Kobe meatballs, duck rillettes, fat slabs of salty bacon-armored paté, squab one night, rabbit another, woodcock on a third. The wild boar sloppy joe is a scarfable Tuscan ragu sandwich topped with crunchy frazzled onions and a pickled jalapeño; a sunny-side up hen egg hash with duck confit is a satisfying late-night breakfast, and might even inoculate you against the dozens of whiskeys behind the bar. —Mike Sula

Old Town Social

455 W. North | 312-266-2277

$$

BAR/LOUNGE, SMALL PLATES | DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SATURDAY & SUNDAY BRUNCH | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, other nights TILL MIDNIGHT

The airspace in this multilevel faux-Victorian sports bar is so thoroughly and discordantly saturated with flat-screen TV signals I'm convinced the design scheme is intended to simulate the internal torments of a schizophrenic. It's a painfully annoying environment to have to endure to get a taste of chef Jared Van Camp's terrific house-made charcuterie. It's high time this art was allowed to flourish in Chicago, and Van Camp, a veteran of Blackbird and Osteria di Tramonto, has moved into the vanguard, using local heritage pork and offering it at reasonably accessible prices. The choices are varied: longer-cured salamis like spicy soppressata and aromatic finocchiona share the bill with rillettes, country paté, and headcheese (unthreateningly listed in Italian, as coppa di testa) as well as two beefier options (pastrami and peperone). Complementing these meats are a dozen mostly raw-milk cheeses from surrounding states (and a few from beyond), themselves meant to be sampled with a few of a dozen more counterpoints—try the candied pumpkin arrope cooked in smoky grape must. Starters, salads, sandwiches, and sides make up the rest of the menu, and they're not as consistent, though thin, crispy hand-cut Belgian-style frites were just about perfect, and harissa-sauced duck wings were a supersized improvement on buffalo-style chicken wings. Old Town Social is a beer-focused bar, with many offerings on draft, many more bottles, and a short seasonal cocktail menu—but Van Camp's curing operation is the ace in the hole. —Mike Sula

Owen & Engine

2700 N. Western | 773-235-2930

$$$

BAR/LOUNGE, ENGLISH/IRISH/SCOTTISH | DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SATURDAY & SUNDAY BRUNCH | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 2

It's a little-known fact that the Secret Order of Posturing Publicans requires pledge-member establishments to staff up with a minimum 65 percent of scruffy beardos, each outfitted with a tweed scally cap, before they can be awarded their ampersands. Opening well ahead of Wicker Park's Bangers & Lace and Lakeview's Blokes & Birds, Logan Square's Owen & Engine was assured its pick of the hirsute chaps passed over by Longman & Eagle. That so many restaurateurs lately have chosen to replicate one of the most maligned cuisines on the planet is certainly curious, even more so than the recent epidemic strains of burgers, pizza, and barbecue. The owners have enlisted young veterans of Alinea, Trotter's, and MK and tout the wholesome, ethical provenance of their farm supply, at least showing some determination to rise above the stereotype of this subset of gastropubbery, and perhaps also to set some stiff prices—$15 for rigid, dry house-made bangers and mash, $14 for an excellent, fat, juicy Slagel Farms cheeseburger, $39 for dry-aged rib eye with Yorkshire pudding. Chef de cuisine Charles Burkhardt's light, greaseless batter-fried haddock and chubby chips are pretty good, and the structurally unstable rasher-and-egg sandwich—thin crispy collops of English back bacon, aligned on a long ciabatta swiped with mayo and topped with a fried egg—is worth painting your face with. But the most delicious thing on the menu is the item least likely to appear within the confines of a British pub. That would be sous chef Jacob Bickelhaupt's so-called rustic lasagna: dollops of rabbit confit layered between large irregular sheets of pasta drizzled with a fennel-infused orange-zest-ricotta sauce. The presence of this shockingly delicious anomaly—on a menu that boasts bubble and squeak, a charcuterie plate of sausages, paté, and pork belly rillettes arrayed on a tree trunk, and an open-faced mutton-and-rutabaga meat pie with a crust thicker and drier than a powdered wig—makes me wonder what else this staff can do that might surprise Charles Dickens. An enthusiastic awkwardness occasionally descends over the front of the house, where certified cicerone Elliot Beier (whiskers, check; headgear, check) might visit your table midmeal and insist on pouring sample pairings, with detailed tasting notes, from the long and interesting draft beer list, whether you've already made your own choices or not. However the offer is timed, don't turn down the chance to quaff a pint of one of the four cask-conditioned ales hooked up to hand-drawn beer engines. Also don't miss a chance to plow into pastry chef Crystal Chiang's chocolate banoffee, a wide parfait glass lined with rum-drunk bananas and buttery graham cracker crust and filled with toffee-threaded chocolate mousse. If everything that came out of the kitchen were as good as that, I could get with the script and overlook the fact that this "pastoral" British tavern has a great view of Burger King. —Mike Sula

The Publican

837 W. Fulton | 312-733-9555

$$$

AMERICAN, CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL, BAR/LOUNGE | AFTERNOON: MONDAY-SATURDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SUNDAY BRUNCH | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11:30

Just how much pig can one city eat? It's not an unreasonable question to ask these days, when you can get belly in your ramen and headcheese in your ravioli and one of the hottest restaurants in town is a shrine to pork, oysters, and beer. On a busy night diners can wait upwards of an hour to knock elbows with their neighbors at communal tables, attended to by (mostly) solicitous servers who deliver platters of creamy La Quercia ham, oddments of offal, and peasant classics like cassoulet and boudin blanc in occasionally haphazard fashion. But on balance the food, under executive chef Paul Kahan and chef de cuisine Brian Huston, is pretty great. The menu changes daily but stays relentlessly on its snout-to-tail message. Rillettes were a rich jam of concentrated pork fat and flavor; dense, savory short ribs were brought into balance with a light, cheery dressing of watermelon and cherry tomatoes. Frites topped with a poached organic egg would've made a decadent breakfast. A briny Penn Cove oyster, one of six varieties on the menu that day, was silkenly sublime. And the pork rinds—gussied up bar bites—were revelatory, lighter than air yet still chewy, hit with an invigorating splash of malt vinegar. But not all the pieces of the Publican puzzle fit. The room, an apparent attempt to marry the minimalism of Blackbird to the rustic coziness of Avec, is frustrating and can get fiercely loud. And are those little enclosed booths along the east wall meant to evoke a row of pigsties? The restaurant offers monthly beer dinners with pairings—the next is Sunday, December 5 (see Heads Up for details). —Martha Bayne

Quartino

626 N. State | 312-698-5000

$$$

ITALIAN | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 2, MONDAY-FRIDAY TILL 1, SUNDAY TILL midnight

Quartino takes its cue from Italy's enoteche, wine bars that serve small plates of everything from antipasti to beef tenderloin. Chef John Coletta occasionally puts his own subtle spin on classic recipes but stays true to the main tenets of Italian cuisine: the best ingredients, simply prepared. Plates of thinly sliced sopressata, rich duck prosciutto, and soft, pungent mortadella (the only salumi not cured in-house) come with garnishes of giardiniera, jammy mostarda (candied fruit with a touch of mustard seed), and a sweet-and-sour cucumber sauce. Fried polenta sticks, served with a red pepper sauce, are perfectly prepared: crisp on the outside and soft and creamy inside. Homemade gnocchi didn't quite achieve pillowy transcendence, but a peppery arugula pesto invited forgiveness. The only complaint about a grilled Nutella panino for dessert was that it didn't arrive oozing hot; profiteroles with vanilla gelato and chocolate sauce made for an elegant if messy ending. Wines—many offered in the U.S. here exclusively—are available by the quartino (quarter liter), half liter, and carafe, and there are also plenty of options by the bottle. —Heather Kenny

Revolution Brewing Company

2323 N. Milwaukee | 773-227-2739

$$

BAR/LOUNGE, BURGERS, PIZZA, EUROPEAN | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SATURDAY & SUNDAY BRUNCH  | OPEN LATE: EVERY NIGHT TILL 2 | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

Legions of beer geeks waited longingly through the epic struggle by Handlebar principal Josh Deth to open Logan Square's Revolution Brewing, and now that the taps are flowing they're draining the house brews faster than brewer Jim Cibak can produce them. Lines of stoic bearded dudes stream in and back out again with biceps curled around growlers of hoppy IPAs, roasty stouts, and spicy Belgian-style brews, barely glancing at the beautifully designed room, with its barrel-stave fixtures and full view of the brewery's raw industrial operations. Meanwhile chef Jason Petrie does battle in a half-concealed kitchen, struggling to feed the masses inspired yet beer-friendly food and striving to appease both carnivores and the vegetarians migrating from the more plant-eater-friendly Handlebar. So far the results are mixed—especially the house-made charcuterie, which hilariously is served with vegan rye bread. On paper a bowl of bacon-fat popcorn sounds like a perfect beer companion, but in practice it's a top-heavy mass with chunks of bacon and clods of shredded Parmesan—the antithesis of finger food. The simplest efforts—tangy, plump smoked buffalo wings, crispy ale-battered scrod—come off the best. Pizzas are offered in a few interesting variants, like duck confit or a corned beef special; beef patties are accessorized with toppings like pepper jack and pulled pork or Gorgonzola with cremini mushrooms and crispy shallots; a corned beef Reuben special (not to be confused with the regularly offered tempeh Reuben) made better use of that vegan rye. And the kitchen has a way with spuds, serving them in three equally successful ways: long crispy fries, blue cheese potato salad, and fluffy garlic-cream cheese mashed. Just give me some of those and I'll be happy. —Mike Sula

Vincent

1475 W. Balmoral | 773-334-7168

$$$

EUROPEAN, SMALL PLATES, BAR/LOUNGE | DINNER: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY | SUNDAY BRUNCH | CLOSED MONDAY | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11

The phrase "Dutch courage" supposedly refers to the bracing shots of genever (aka Holland gin) soldiers threw back before heading into battle in the Anglo-Dutch wars. You have to wonder how many of those chef Joncarl Lachman downed before mustering the guts to list something called zaansemosterdsoep as the second item on his menu at Vincent—right after the maatjesharing shot. The former is a thick, brick-yellow mustard soup with a central archipelago of crab salad, smeerkaas (a soft cheese), and tarragon pesto; it's evolved from a mustard soup that Lachman developed at HB Home Bistro, the Halsted Street spot he took over from the Hearty Boys about five years ago. The latter is a twist on the tequila shot involving the ingestion of a small bite of spiced pickled herring, followed by a tulip glass of that juniper-charged genever and finished with a mollifying disk of cucumber. Actual Low Country conscripts might mutiny over the bartender's failure to fill the glass over the lip, but for the rest of us these starters are a welcoming introduction to Lachman's peculiar recasting of the former La Tache. Bedecked with gilt-framed photographs of bicycles and tulips, it's dark enough to convince you that you're hunched among Van Gogh's potato eaters, sopping up a bowl of onion soup—more abundant with duck confit than onions—with thick slices of black bread draped with gooey Leyden cheese. It's not that a Dutch restaurant in the middle of historically Swedish Andersonville seems strange. It's that a Dutch restaurant anywhere outside of the Netherlands does. After rijsttafel, gingerbread, and space cakes, the Netherlands are best known for ample but not exactly titillating plates of sausages, cabbage, and root vegetables. All of these make their way onto the menu, and into a three-course $25 prix fixe: pork belly, brown bread, and snert (not some creature hunted out of Seuss, but a superthick, Shrek-green split pea soup), smoked sausage and mashed roots, and a cheese course of aged Gouda. Lachman's charcuterie plate is probably the most generous and satisfying I've run across in town—a raft of paté run through with a vein of charred green onion and two fat slabs of headcheese, each redolent of warm spices and loaded with fruit. A fat fillet of beer-battered haddock comes on a mound of snert studded with coins of smoked sausage, while half portions of plump, fresh mussels in one of five preparations are enough for two eaters to share. You might expect an American interpretation of a cuisine typically written off as bland to be oversalted, but Lachman's cooks achieve that perfect balance where neither its presence nor absence is noticed. That's until you hit dessert: here the crystals are used to enhance the sweet apple caramel sauce that drenches a biscuity tart and also on the chocolate cake sandwiching a peanut butter mousse, a luxe Little Debbie that might make some pine for another aspect of Dutch culture—it's ideal stoner food. —Mike Sula

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