The mid-2000s marked the beginning of the "Age of the Pig" in Chicago —pork belly, suckling pig face, and bacon invaded the menu of most trendy and upscale eateries in The Windy City. Some would certainly argue that the height of the pig's reign occurred in late 2008, with the opening of The Publican. This Paul Kahan hot spot serves farmhouse cuisine with an emphasis on pork dishes such as ham chop "in hay," aged ham with goat butter and peasant bread, and spicy pork rinds. The inside of the restaurant resembles a European beer hall, with communal tables and a selection of more than 90 beers. Clever and consistently delicious, The Publican has been righteously ruling Chicago's pork scene for the last four years.
Last Monday The Publican expanded its monarchy and opened Publican Quality Meats(PQM), an artisanal butcher that serves six mouth-watering sandwiches. Similar to its older brother, PQM is a carnivore's delight, but (refreshingly) it doesn't focus on pork. The menu offers a meat selection that will accommodate everyone's taste buds, ranging from turkey and tuna to pork belly and salami.
Upon your arrival at PQM you will be instructed to push through the crowd to order a sandwich from the butcher —a real deli experience. Today, I pushed to the front and couldn't resist ordering the lamb meatball sub, which layers six flavourful balls sprinkled with fresh sheep cheese on a lobster roll-style bun from Franks 'N' Dawgs. After doing more pushing to pay for my sandwich at the cashier's stand, the hostess sat me at a communal table and within five minutes my sandwich arrived.
While there was a rather large bun-to-meat ratio on the sub, the buttery toasted bun turned out to be my favourite part of the sandwich. The bun also served as the perfect utensil to sop up every last drip of sauce on the plate. The meatballs were pleasantly mild and absent of lambs' typical gameness. Since I normally don't like mint, I was also thankful for the light touch the chef had with the herb. The sandwich is served with a side of salty and crunchy potato chips —all for less than $10.
Even if sandwiches aren't your thing, PQM has a gorgeous butcher counter filled with poultry, charcuterie, cheese, and more. I've yet to mention the breads baked in-house by Ehsan Ganji from Flourish Bakery (which closed in September). There is also a coffee bar and large selection of gourmet food products that include American Spoon Jam and drinking vinegars from Pok Pok. A trip to the market is undeniably a unique experience. There is something fun about pushing to the front of the butcher counter to order and the disorganized seating method; the small hassles make the food that much more enjoyable, too.
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