The focus of the shop is a bank of three large display coolers holding some of the most beautiful sausages and cuts of meat imaginable. Shelves along the windows hold a small but well-curated selection of packaged goods. Several long communal tables share the back of the store with cases containing items such as stocks (including pork belly stock and bacon stock).
I went twice during their first week so keep in mind things may have changed already. The menu is simple and appealing: ribollita, cocido and six sandwiches. Wines and a couple draft beers are available. The sandwich menu:
- Better Than a Gyro ($9) Braised pork belly on flatbread with orange spice vin, escalivada, raita, mint, red onions and pea shoots.
Tuna Muffaletta ($12) Poached albacore tune on tomato focaccia with tomato sauce, olive salad, shaved Brussels sprouts and soft boiled eggs.
Train to Tuscany ($9.50) Toscano salami on focaccia with ricotta, puntarella, honey and moscatel vinegar.
Turkey Sandwich ($9.50) Smoked turkey on whole wheat with avocado, lime red onions, piri piri sauce, puntarella and capers.
Mortadella Sandwich ($7.50) Mortadella on griddled rye with peach mostarda, chopped liver, arugula and marinated onions.
Lamb Meatball Sandwich ($8) Lamb meatballs on a "Franks 'n' Dawgs" lobster roll with bravas sauce, Shepherd's Hope cheese, cabbage and mint.
Ribollita ($5) was flat-out great, with perfectly cooked cannellini beans and kale in a pancetta-enriched broth thickened with torn up bread.
Plus some good olive oil, actually a lot of good olive oil. One of the best uses of five bucks I can think of especially in this chilly weather. Cocido has gotten an enthusiastic thumbs up as well. Eat PQM cocido is high on my to-do list.
I liked both sandwiches I tried but didn't love them. Ingredients are first-rate but the balance seemed slightly off (it could be that minor tweaks have already occurred). Housemade mortadella with chopped liver sounds like it could be a magical combination but somehow it didn't quite come together for me.
I loved the crispy fried mortadella but the liver paste only seemed to increase the heaviness of the sandwich. Arugula and onions helped but I didn't love the sweet mostarda (mostly a personal preference as I rarely enjoy much sweet with my meat). The excellent toasted rye seemed to dominate, not a terrible thing with such good bread, but I think the sandwich might benefit from slightly thinner slices. Maybe a zippier mostarda? Maybe more heavily marinated onions? I'm not sure. The sandwich is better than the vast majority in Chicago but with a little fiddling it could go a step beyond that.
I had similar feelings about the gyro: very good as-is but within easy striking distance of greatness.
The pork belly, one of Kahan's true and everlasting loves, came torn into rather lean but flavorful shreds. A most excellent sandwich stuffing. The veggies and dressings really enhanced the meat (I was happy that the mint didn't dominate) and the freshly made flatbread was terrific. But again I thought the balance was slightly off: another instance of too much bread. I managed a few bites with a higher filling-to-bread ratio and was much happier with those. I found myself wishing the flatbread was a bit thinner or perhaps ovoid in shape to avoid so much overlap (or simply that the fillings were slightly more abundant).
These early stops at Publican Quality Meats reminded me of a similar early visit to the Publican. I enjoyed most of the food but wasn't quite as wowed as I expected. Kahan and his crew, who certainly know what the hell they're doing, tweaked the food and brought it to another level. I expect the same will happen (or has already occurred) with the sandwiches at Publican Quality Meats. I was probably much more negative above than I should have been but these guys have previously set a very high standard for themselves. Publican Quality Meats is already an incredible resource for Chicago and I can hardly wait to try more sandwiches as well as that cocido.
Publican Quality Meats
825 W Fulton Market
http://publicanqualitymeats.com/ (minimal content presently)