Though this column has only been going on for a few weeks, I've of course been eating sausage all year long. In the spirit of year-end lists, then, here are some highlights from 2011 that are worth a detour to try.
Pleasant House's English Bangers
On Wednesdays, Pleasant House Bakery offers house-made bangers and mash in addition to their regular menu of pasties and meat pies, and I had the good fortune of tasting them this year (they merited a feature in this column). They're mild, incomparably juicy, and extremely pleasurable to eat with mash, gravy, and a red onion compote. I'd easily pit them against bangers I've eaten in England and expect them to win.
Thai Aree's Thai Sausage
I wake up with cravings for this sausage—and many other things—from this gem of a Thai restaurant on Milwaukee avenue in Irving Park. Though the real story might be the Larb salads (a must-eat in Chicago, in my opinion), I never eat here without ordering their charcoal-grilled sausage which is flavored with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and other good things. The result is funky, juicy, and addicting.
Thai Aree House, 3592 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60641 (map); 773-725-6751
Old Town Social's Finocchiona
As one of the only true charcuterie places in town (Chicago regulations make it quite difficult to do any kind of curing or aging of meat in restaurants), Old Town Social does have a corner on the market. But that doesn't mean they're phoning it in: their salumi is seasoned expertly with restraint, allowing the quality of their product shine through. The Finocchiona Tusan salami is the perfect example; the fennel doesn't overwhelm, allowing the pork, salt, and time to do the real work.
Uncle John's BBQ Hot Links
Chicago barbecue has a tradition of smoking sausage alongside its ribs, and it's pretty awesome. The "hot links" as they're often known are heavily spiced and spicy, almost overwhelmed with smoke, and contain enough fat to remain juicy while the long cooking time crisps up the casing. Uncle John's hot links on the South Side are justifiably famous, slathered in their famous sauce and inevitably eaten awkardly in the car or on a curb (there is no place to sit). But when they're this good, who cares?
Uncle John's Barbecue, 337 East 69th Street, Chicago, IL 60637 (map); 773-892-1233
The Purple Pig's Morcilla
Though the idea of blood sausage might turn some off, it's truly one of the best sausages around, and almost every culture seems to have one. Happily, using the blood is not just about respecting the animal: it's particularly delicious, too. It's not easy to find on restaurant menus, though, and I was happy to stumble on it at The Purple Pig this year. They do a subtly-flavored Spanish version, poached, sliced, and crisped up, served with a seasonal accompaniment (it came with fava beans when I ordered it). On a menu of great dishes, it's a stand-out.