Taft and the Hound sample sausages

April 7, 2008 9:32:55 AM PDT
Every now and then, our food reporter takes someone along for the ride.Over the past year, he's been eating his way through some of Chicago's best sausages with a fellow aficionado - our own Jerry Taft. The two intrepid eaters teamed up again this week.

Our first mission included a polish at Jim's Original, then an Italian at Al's and a northern Thai sausage at Sticky Rice in Albany Park.

Last time, we hit Hot Doug's for some gourmet sausages, but still, everything came in a bun. This time around, we're going a bit more upscale with only knife-and-fork sausages. And the results may surprise you. It's time for SausageQuest, Round Three.

Our quest begins at the base of Lake Point Tower, in the Mediterranean-influenced Copperblue - an intimate space where the food is refined and the atmosphere somewhat hushed.

STEVE: "And let me just say, nice of you to dress for the occasion."
JERRY: "What do you mean?"
STEVE: "You're in a nice restaurant with a tablecloth!"
JERRY: "I wore a collar."
STEVE: "Alright..."

Chef Michael Tsonton offers a homemade merguez sausage, made from lamb, loaded with nearly 20 spices. It's served with a salad of carrots and fennel.

JERRY: "It's good; I would like it a little bigger, I would think."
STEVE: "A little thicker?"
JERRY: "Wouldn't you? You know."
STEVE: "Yeah."
JERRY: "So that you can get more taste out of it."
STEVE: "I shouldn't use my hands, should I?"
JERRY: "Right, as I go like this."
STEVE: "Don't tell anybody."

JERRY: "But I would have to order you know, three or four of these."
JERRY: "Because I'm done already."
JERRY: "You can see I hated it."

In search of a more substantial sausage, it's off to Bin 36 in River North, where a new chef has ramped up the flavors, by offering an Indian-influenced lamb sausage, grilled then finished in the oven; it arrives with a potato-lentil cake.

STEVE: "The cardamom and the cumin, that's what I thought was interesting. It's almost like an Indian treatment of a lamb sausage."

JERRY: "Certainly a much different presentation than I'm used to."
STEVE: "Right, you don't often see sausage served like this."
JERRY: "Cut up and served like that but it tastes great."

STEVE: "The key with this is that there's a good amount of fat in the sausage, kinda like your Polishes, that you like."
JERRY: "I like fat."
STEVE: "Fat is flavor!"

Below Bin 36, A Mano now has a cotechino sausage on its menu, made from fatty pork and skin, it arrives over Umbrian lentils and is submerged beneath a few shards of Italian sheep's milk cheese.

STEVE: "Again, no bun. Are you all right with that?"
JERRY: "You know, I may go bunless for the rest of the year."

STEVE: "..and that's not too much garlic for you, or spice?
JERRY: "is it?
STEVE: "It has a wonderful aroma."

JERRY: "It's a totally different taste, you know, I mean, Chicago-style sausage has pretty much the same taste no matter where you go, everybody's has the same, and you acquire a taste for that. This is totally different."

STEVE: "A toast to sausage."

There are obviously places that make their own sausage and crumble it onto pizza or mix it into other dishes, but few that actually make it in-house, then feature it as the star on the plate.

Indian spiced lamb sausage with a potato-lentil cake
Bin 36
339 N. Dearborn
312-755-9463

Cotechino sausage with Umbrian lentils and shaved Italian sheep's milk cheese
A Mano
335 N. Dearborn
312-629-3500

Grilled housemade merguez sausage with a spiced carrot and fennel salad and braised celery heart and carrot emulsion
Copperblue
580 E. Illinois St.
312-527-1200

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