Since I've been writing Sausage City for quite some time now, I've been to my share of butcher shops. And lately, I've started to wonder how to keep them separate. What is the the unique nature of each one? Certainly, some have better sausages than others, or a friendlier staff, a more updated decor, or a better location. But what truly sets one place apart from another? Is there a magical combination that makes a cohesive whole, the butcher shop one imagines in dreams? In many ways, Geppherth's Market in Lincoln Park is the closest thing to that mark.
And it makes sense: finishing up their 106th year of business, you'd think they would indeed have figured it out by now. Geppherth's has a cozy, family-owned ambience, far friendlier than the majority of shops I've visited yet (with Lincoln Quality Meats being the sole exception).
It's as if they've mellowed out over the years and realized that being a butcher and being gruff are not necessarily required. They have a sense of humor, a confidence around who they are, and with that comes that elusive and magical combination of competence and customer service.
Their list of products is impressively long considering it's a tiny space (it's a fraction of the size of, say, Paulina Meat Market). In the end, this feels like a neighborhood place.
Besides an extensive selection of unusual sausages in the freezers (like French Toulouse, game sausages, and lamb merguez), they have the usual Chicago suspects like German and Sheboygan-style brats, multiple varieties of Italian sausage, Polish sausage, and a case of their own smoked sausages like kabanosy and landjaeger. Beyond sausage, they are very well-stocked with all manner of fresh meat, pantry items, sauces, rubs, cheese, and even house-made sauerkraut, which is still studded with juniper berries.
I left with a varied selection of sausage, some cooked, some raw, some coarsely ground, some emulsified, some Italian, some German, some Polish, some Wisconsin. Then we grilled them all up and had a taste test.
They were good. Some were outstanding (especially the cooked sausages, like the all-beef hot dog, the pork-and-veal frankfurter, and the German bratwurst; I also loved the fresh Polish sausage). In a town like Chicago, the standards are pretty darn high, and some of the varieties were not the best I've had, though everything was as good as it needed to be.
Point being, as an entity, Gepperth's does it better than almost everyone. It's the kind of butcher shop you wish was around the corner, a place where you're treated well, you can ask questions, special order that crown roast or pork belly, and count on their experience and quality.