You could drive by Romanian Kosher Sausage Company for years and never feel the need to stop by. Sure, you might wonder about what goes on in that mysterious building—with imposing cages behind its windows, piles of boxes stacked high obscuring the inside, giant letters spelling out "ROMANIAN" on the side of the building—but it looks more like an abandoned building that what it truly is: one of the best and most beloved butcher shops in Chicago.
Things don't even improve much once you walk inside; it's stark, fluorescent, and cold. The reach-in freezers are covered with slabs of ancient styrofoam that obscure their contents, so you think they're empty. Haphazard and handwritten signs are yellowing with age, quite possibly taped there for close to 50 years, and line the walls with little rhyme or reason.
But then you come around the corner to the main counter, and things start to look up. On the back wall, there are dozens of salamis ranging from one to four pounds hanging in evenly-spaced regularity, gleaming and deep red. There are knowledgeable, friendly people behind the counter. There are rows of laminated magazine articles full of praise. And there are, of course, their list of products that have garnered a devoted following not only in Chicago, but across the country.
First, there are those salamis, available not only in varying sizes, but in varying stages of drying from soft to hard. Like many beef salamis, the texture is finer than a typical cured sausage. The spicing is subtle and spot-on, the distribution of fat excellent. As a lover of charcuterie, it's tough to leave behind my belief that salami is at its heart an expression of the pig. But this is certainly a wondrous sausage, and for anyone who abstains from eating pork, a truly wonderful experience of handcrafted cured meat.
It's impossible to write about Romanian Kosher Sausage Company and not mention their hot dogs, which are, I can now confirm, vying for best in the city. Made on the premises, their texture is perfect and the seasoning wonderful—just a little more interesting than your average dog, with a hint of garlicky undertones.
Unfortunately, they're sold skinless and not available with natural casings. If there was an alternate universe of my own making, I would change at least one thing: Romanian Kosher Sausage Company hot dogs would be natural casing. Because they would then be the best hot dogs in the world.
And though it's not a sausage, I couldn't leave without a tub of chopped liver, which people absolutely raved about in almost every online review I encountered. It is astonishingly addictive and good, creamy and sweet, and subtly seasoned.
On my way out, I also had a peek under one of the slabs of pink styrofoam and found a tube of kishka, which is essentially a sausage made of matzoh meal and beef fat. Once I figure out how to cook it (help?), I'll be trying it.
Romanian Kosher Sausage Company might be a little inaccessible on the outskirts of Chicago, but it's a gem that's been doing things the right way for over 50 years. Since sausage was my goal, I've covered a fraction of what they offer (I failed to taste the corned beef and pastrami that people talk about incessantly in online reviews, but please don't judge me). So I'll be back. And I have a hunch that they'll be around for quite a while longer, should evil circumstance keep me from visiting soon.
Romanian Kosher Sausage Company
7200 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60626 (map)