(Barry Brecheisen/For RedEye )
Publican Quality Meats
825 W. Fulton Market. 312-445-8977
Rating: !!!! (out of four) Already hot
The story: Chef Paul Kahan has a stellar track record, from his stunning seasonal plates at Blackbird to Big Star's addictive tacos to beer-and-meat palace The Publican. So it's not a surprise that fans are flocking to his long-awaited market, Publican Quality Meats, which specializes in artisanal meats, cheeses and fresh-baked breads. On Feb. 13, the shop started serving sandwiches as well, available for dine-in only until Monday, when carryout begins.
The scene: Almost as crowded as Grahamwich during opening week, but less orderly and with more seating. The two-step process of ordering at the butcher counter and paying the cashier was complicated by customers entering from two different doors and not really knowing where the end of the line was. The last sandwich orders are taken at 6 p.m., so lunch or an early dinner is the way to go.
The crowd: Delivery trucks pulling up to meat-market loading docks (or dropping off kegs at The Publican across the street) account for most of Fulton Market's action on a weekday, but inside PQM on Tuesday, it was a full-on sausage fest. Four communal tables were filled almost exclusively with dudes, young and old, all stuffing their faces with sandwiches.
The food: The sandwich board lists six options, and the very first—a braised pork belly flatbread sandwich ($9) called "Better Than a Gyro"—is hard to pass up. Tender belly bites mingled nicely with raita (an Indian yogurt sauce similar to a gyro's traditional Greek tzatziki) and escalivada (grilled veggies, which will sound familiar if you've been toSpain's Catalan region or Tavernita lately). You wouldn't suspect it from the monstrous size of it, but the tuna muffuletta ($12) is actually a lighter version of the New Orleans favorite traditionally made with layers of ham, salami, pepperoni and other rich meats. Each hulking pie-shaped slice of tomato foccacia is stuffed with chunks of poached tuna, shaved brussels sprouts, soft-boiled eggs and a tart olive salad studded with pickled cauliflower and carrot. Ironically, the sandwich that stole my heart was the only one not served on house-made bread: The decadent lamb meatball sub ($8) served on a lobster roll-style bun from local hot dog shop Franks 'N' Dawgs. The only thing that left me lukewarm were the kinda-bland chips (a little more salt, please?) that accompany each sandwich.
Bonus: The grocery area is a gold mine for gourmet food fans, stocked with treats ranging from apricot-ginger chevre and hand-rolled butter to whole pheasants and take-home tubs of chicken stock and duck fat.
Bottom line: PQM's sandwiches are thoughtfully composed and a good value to boot. If you can get to the West Loop for a long lunch break, consider yourself lucky. If not, start crafting an excuse to leave work early or brace yourself for what's sure to be a very crowded weekend visit.
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