Merry old English food in Chicago

May 4, 2011 2:00:14 PM PDT
All those stories about the royal wedding made our food reporter hungry. He has been visiting a few places with strong links to London.

Tina Brown might know fashion and British culture, but Nick Spencer knows his bangers from his crumpets.

The ex-pat moved to Chicago for family, then started his own traditional British bacon and sausage company.

So when I wanted a taste of what they're most likely eating across the pond, the owner of Spencer's Jolly Posh British and Irish Foods was just the man for the job.

When I asked him to take me to a couple of places making food reminiscent of back home, we met first at Pret a Manger, a grab-and-go concept across the street from the Willis Tower at 211 W. Adams St.

"They make delicious fresh food, they source their own ingredients locally and they sort of put it in almost like English bread, thin bread, lots of focus on meat, lots of focus on lettuce, fresh ingredients. It's delicious," said Spencer.

There are about 150 stores in the U.K., but just a handful in Chicago. Sandwiches range from hearty chicken-mozzarella to simple egg salad on properly thin British-style bread. Overloaded salads and tempting "love bars" loaded with chocolate, walnuts and coconut are all made on-site.

Spencer then took me to Lincoln Square, for a meal at The Red Lion - just South of Lawrence Avenue at 4749 N. Rockwell Ave.

He showed me his namesake products, which are also used in the kitchen.

"We make two flavors of sausages: 'bangers' as the Brits call them, and then back bacon, which is a bacon made with the loin rather than the belly," said Spencer.

The bangers are set atop a thick mound of cabbage-studded mashed potatoes, or "mash," along with a side of peas.

"Bangers are basically a nickname that the Brits and the Irish give a sausage, and the key distinctions of a banger is they have a lovely softness to the texture," said Spencer. "So the meat's very finely ground, and they're really not very salty at all."

Cornish pasties are stuffed with meat and potatoes, along with a sidecar of rich mushroom gravy. Even the shepherd's pie is a hearty, filling classic, perfect with a pint, which you can bring yourself as they await a liquor license. Spencer says the most British of the bunch, however, is bangers and mash.

"Kate Winslet, for, example, served bangers and mash at her first wedding, allegedly," said Spencer. "I know Prince Charles is a big fan of them."

We took a moment to hoist a pint in honor of the newest royal couple - cheers, to William and Kate.

In the suburbs, if you're looking for meat pies or Cadbury chocolates from Britain, you can visit British Accents in Long Grove.

Pret a Manger
211 W Adams St
100 N. La Salle St.

The Red Lion
4749 N. Rockwell

British Accents
116 Old McHenry Rd., Long Grove
847-913 0855.

for more information about Spencer's Jolly Posh British and Irish Foods:

For online ordering and home delivery:
Zingerman's mail order - 888-636-8162
Gepperth's Meat Market - 773-549-3883

Also available at retail locations:
Sunset Foods
Provenance Food & Wine
Olivia's Market
Gepperth's Meat Market
Lemon Tree Grocer
Zier's Prime Meats
Zingerman's Deli