There is no shortage of butcher shops in Chicago, and many of them are excellent at executing traditional German and Polish and otherwise European varieties of sausage. Whether it's a fresh Wisconsin-style bratwurst, poached emulsified sausages like knackwurst, or hot-smoked links of kielbasa, you can reliably find them at reasonable prices and of good quality.
What you don't always see, though, are signs like those at Lincoln Quality Meat: "Free Range Meat" is not the kind of terminology your average gruff Chicago butcher is likely to advertise. But that's a central part of the program at Lincoln Quality, an institution over 80 years old in the heart of Lincoln Square. I stopped in recently to ask them about this, and for a lesson in their homemade sausage.
I was treated to a friendly conversation about their entire range of meats (which, on two occasions, were enthusiastically recommended to me by loyal customers when they saw my camera and realized I was writing about the place), their range of products, and the immense popularity of their Čevapčići sausage, which sells out two months in advance during the summer grilling season.
Though I tried samples of a wide range of their products (a highlight being the liver sausage with small pieces of cooked bacon blended into the otherwise smooth sausage), I walked out with a more modest selection: a long link of fresh andouille, a veal German-style bratwurst, a link each of their mild and hot smoked Croation sausage, a pound of that famous Čevapčići sausage, and two links of black pepper "bacon sausage," the only non-housemade variety that they procure from a local USDA-certified sausage maker known as Big Fork, who has become rather famous in the neighborhood for their high-quality offerings.
In my visit I was struck by two things: one, that incredible customer loyalty and the ease with which those behind the counter interacted with people who came by; there was none of the usual gruffness you might expect. The second was the genuine enthusiasm and passion in the context of a very traditional shop. Lincoln Quality Meats somehow lives in both worlds: they have the 80 year old cred and the look of an old shop, but they quietly care about more environmentally responsible meat and let it speak for itself.
Judging from the stream of recommendation-happy customers and the taste of their product, it's a fine way to run a shop, indeed.