Sausage City: Spencer's Bangers
Recreating the tastes of home might sound like a cliche, but this idea is often what drives the best food producers and restaurants in the city. When you think about it, it's really a selfish act: someone goes through the trouble of making a dish right because they want to taste it for themselves. It's only as a byproduct that the rest of us get to reap the delicious benefits.
That was the case with Nick Spencer, owner of Spencer's, who moved to the U.S. to be with his now-wife and missed British standards like the back-bacon sandwich with grilled tomatoes "in a soft white roll with HP sauce." Not to mention a plate of bangers and mash washed down with "a pint of creamy British ale." Anyone else hungry yet? If not, here you go:
It used to be that nobody missed British food, or nobody with any taste, anyway. But the food scene in the UK has changed in the last 20 years, according to Spencer, and even old British standards are being elevated by local butchers. "I'm making sausage and bacon that is commensurate with what you'd find in your high end grocery store or local butcher back home," he explained. His family has been involved with food in "various guises" for a long time; his Grandfather was a mushroom farmer in Yorkshire. Most of his customers here are connected with Britain or Ireland through family, heritage, or travels abroad (plus a good number of expats).
At the Logan Square Farmer's Market on Sundays, Spencer can be found in his well-worn British butcher stripe apron, enticing people with the smell of sizzling grilled sausages and bacon. Sure, it's idyllic to peruse beautiful vegetables and imagine all the delicious things to be cooked in the future—but then again, there's the smell of cooking meat. I think this is why, when you walk by the Spencer's booth on Sundays in Logan Square, you see a lot of people lingering, sampling, and asking a lot of questions.
It doesn't take Nick too long to explain; the offerings at Spencer's are simple. You can have a sandwich with their famous bacon, their famous bangers, or both ("The Full Monty"). Either way, they're layered into a split baguette and your choice of condiments are available, though I would highly recommend you follow orders and top it with brown HP sauce. And that you put a fried egg on it.
This sandwich is delicious, but it's really just there to showcase those bangers and bacon. The bacon is outstanding. Good British-style rashers (the same "back bacon" that the Canadians also lay claim to) are not easily found in Chicago, and a product as good as this is not easy to find anywhere (Michigan's famed Zingerman's even carries it).
But this is Sausage City, so what about them? Bangers are an interesting sausage that tend to be exceptionally soft and juicy (I've already written about the British-style sausage coming out of Art Jackson's Pleasant House in Bridgeport). Nick explained that "the perfect banger is the combo of the lovely soft texture combined with delicate herbs and seasonings," which described what he sells beautifully. They're stuffed into pork casings and are available with traditional spicing (ginger and nutmeg) as well as an herb version.
Nick makes them at a USDA-approved facility in Chicago, and in addition to being available at the Logan Square winter market through March (and at the outdoor market after that), are also sold at specialty stores around the Chicago area and by mail-order. Or, you can stop by a number of pubs (Blokes & Birds, Bangers & Lace, Paddy Longs, and more) to try them out.