Serious Eats: Chicago
Sausage City: Small Bar's Scotch Egg and Beef Sausage Cauliflower Gratin
There is one form that we generally expect sausage to take, and that's in a casing. "Encased meat" is the basic definition of sausage, and granted, that's also the best way to consider the craftsmanship, quality, and cooking method: whether the texture of the sausages is right, how well it retains moisture, the firmness and snap of the casing.
However, once in awhile it's worth opening up this column to sausage that doesn't come in a casing at all. At Small Bar Division, chef Justin White revamped the menu in the last year, elevating it from basic bar food to inventive, accomplished fare. On two recent visits, I was genuinely surprised at how good the food was, holding its own with the extensive craft beer list Small Bar has always been known for. The menu is labeled as "scratch food," which refers to the handmade quality of everything they offer. And that extends to the sausage.
The menu currently features a house made beef sausage, which is boldly and singularly flavored with rosemary and plenty of black pepper. I had it in two iterations: crumbled into a rich cauliflower gratin ($10) topped with Parmesan and breadcrumbs, and wrapped around an egg before being breaded and fried, in a preparation known as a Scotch Egg ($10)
The seasoning on Small Bar's beef sausage is very forward and aggressive, which helps it stand out in both dishes. The cauliflower is blanched and comes in a creamy base with slivered pickled chiles, most likely banana peppers, before it's browned.
The Scotch Egg is as outstanding as it looks, one of the better renditions I've had in Chicago. Like Art Jackson at Pleasant House, Small Bar gets it right by not hard boiling the egg before frying; instead, it comes to the table on a bed of braised escarole with the white just set and the yolk still a bit runny. Once you've had a Scotch Egg made this way, it all makes sense.
A place like Small Bar doesn't have to serve food this good. And for over 5 years, they didn't. But if you haven't been recently, put it on your list.