The spring of 2017 was a dark time for residents of Rogers Park and Edgewater. Our neighborhood butcher, Holzperhoff, on Broadway Street and Granville Avenue, shut down. I would go to that butcher shop at least once a week, excited to catch up with Mike, my butcher. Mike took care of me by special ordering lamb and duck and sometimes throwing me some freebies.
I felt hurt when Mike closed up shop, since the nearest butcher to me is Whole Foods — expensive, industrial and impersonal. I began my quest for a butcher worth my time and hard-earned money. I would be damned if I bought organic chicken breast for $7 a pound. Seriously, are you kidding me?
Long story short, my mom and I were craving a chicken parmesan sandwich and heard a place near her house makes a kick-ass one. Publican Quality Meats (825 W. Fulton Market) is two blocks off the CTA Morgan Green Line stop. The first time I went to Publican, the summer sun was shining off silverware from the outdoor seating. Patrons were silent as they devoured their meals. It was odd, no one was speaking. Soft crunching of bread and ice cubes clinking were all I could hear through the gentle breeze on this July day.
We entered Publican and the deafening silence was cut off by the stir of the butcher counter.
“Hey, I’m gonna need two pounds of blood sausage!”
“Eric get me a quarter pound of pimento!”
“Hey! Hey! Hey! Who’s next?!”
The scene was a chaotic calm and I felt at home; I’m a fan of chaos. “What can I get you, bud?” came out from behind the counter. A tall gentleman with a long amber beard, red flannel and black square-framed glasses waited patiently for my mom and I to order.
“Two Chicken Parms and a San Pellegrino to go please.”
Every seat inside and outside was taken, so we decided to eat on the curb. The weather was in our favor, and my mom and I don’t really care about formalities, just food. I could only get a glance of the butcher counter due to the swarm of people all around me, but I was determined. After munching away at our lunch, my mom muttered through a burp, “That was what I needed!” implying this was one of the best sandwiches she’s had. I agreed with her, saying the soft hoagie roll was the perfect vessel for the crunchy chicken parm.
After wrapping up lunch, I went back in determined to assess the quality of this butcher. How friendly and knowledgeable is the staff, how unique is the selection, does the place look and feel clean and can they special order me duck? Duck is one of my favorite dishes to cook so, no duck, no Jacob.
The congestion lessened and I was able to spark a conversation with Eric, the bearded gentleman from before.
House-made sausages dangle from the top of the refrigeration unit. Rotund blocks and wheels of cheese gave olfactory overload to my nostrils.
Eric began to slice a hunk of dark brown meat, “Try this, it’s blood salami we make in house.” He had me try a banquet of deli meats and cheeses, explaining the farms and cheese makers of each new food I tried. He asked me about my floral tattoo, saying his wife was looking for an artist in Chicago and I gave him my artist’s name. We connected right off the bat and I left with a few pounds of cheese and meat and, most importantly, a friend. I found my new butcher.
I’ve been going to Publican Quality Meats twice a month for a sandwich and various meats and cheeses. Eric and the other wonderful staff members help me out with special orders such as dry aged duck, cow’s blood (for blood sausage), organ meats and Avec dates (Chorizo-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon).
The beauty of Publican Quality Meats is it’s a butcher, bakery and cafe. Its sandwiches range from $11 to $14, and the meats are fairly priced. It also has all the sourdough bread you could ever want. Visit its website, www.publicanqualitymeats.com to see all it has to offer.