Sausage City: The Butcher & the Burger
While trends tend to come and go, two have emerged in the last couple years that seem to have tremendous staying power: burger joints and artisanal butchers. I'm just about always in favor of the latter, though there are far too many mediocre burgers out there capitalizing on the trend, which is too bad. Still, even if both have been done before, I can't say I anticipated a concept, open recently in Lincoln Park, which would try to do both.
Butcher & the Burger has gotten plenty of press for its burger, and for good reason. When I went in to investigate the meat counter, I ordered a straight beef patty with salt and pepper, and it was one of the better burgers I've had in Chicago. (The options are plenty and sometimes confusing, from pork to shrimp, curry-spiced to Asian-inflected soy-and-ginger, with hundreds of possible combinations in between. Many must be good, but I always begin with the immutable beef, salt, and pepper.)
But, well, almost nobody has said anything about the other half of their concept: the butcher.
Part of that may be because it's more novelty than anything. Ostensibly, "Butcher & the Burger" sounded cooler than "Burger & the Butcher," even though the latter is far more accurate. The meat case on a recent Friday afternoon was basically empty; no fresh meat in sight, just a few pâtés, some head cheese, and a tray of venison sausage. This is not a place you could ever rely on as your local butcher, and places like Butcher & Larder or Publican Quality Meats are in a whole other league. Though Butcher & the Burger does have one piece of (unavoidable) artisanal butcher pedigree: classes that teach you how to butcher (they also offer classes on sausage making).
Still, considering the quality of what comes out of their kitchen, I ordered a pound of the only sausage they had in their case, venison. It came pre-poached, probably because a fresh venison sausage probably wouldn't move from the case all that quickly. At about 40% fat back to 60% venison, it's a succulent sausage to say the least. Being pre-cooked, it's simple to grill or sear it up very quickly.
I spoke to someone at the restaurant who is involved with their meat program, and he said that the main goal is to take advantage of the endless scraps and extra meat that the kitchen produces, both in the process of making their burgers, and also as a result of butchering classes, which include not only pig, but also whole steer (after those classes, he said, there tends to be a lot more fresh meat in the case).
My advice is to go for the burger, but if you see a few sausages in the case, bring a few home.