Whenever restaurants take lowbrow recipes and elevate them, I fall for it. Whether it's a perfectly griddled skinny diner burger or, say, masterfully crisp fries, there's an art to skillfully executing classics using great technique, yet resisting the urge to "chef-i-fy" them into something that betrays their original values. And those values are highly intact at Au Cheval in the West Loop.
Burgers and fries are obvious candidates for this treatment, as are hot dogs, milkshakes, and the like. But bologna is not a food with fond memories for me. The kid with a bologna sandwich at school was never the cool one; his sandwich had funky mystery meat. Wikipedia advises that the bologna sandwich is commonly served in jails, and particularly holding cells, throughout the United States. Not an auspicious beginning for a dish.
Which is why it is so surprising that the Fried House Made Bologna Sandwich at Au Cheval is one of the messiest, most delicious sandwiches I've eaten in ages. It doesn't rely on a nostalgic food memory. It's good enough to create its own craving on the spot.
Bologna is really just a huge sausage, emulsified in the same way as a hot dog, and can be made well with quality ingredients and seasonings. Making a house bologna is a daring move, but so is crisping it up on a griddle before piling it inside a soft bun and topping it with American cheese.
A flattop and a deep fryer are hallmarks of the American diner kitchen. In that sense, Au Cheval gets it exactly right, despite some criticism that calling it a diner is a misnomer (for one, they could try to keep the place open for more hours). At Au Cheval, the flattop is king. And I am happy to have added the idea of griddled bologna to list of great foods to come off it.