I'll admit, it felt strange to dig into the massive BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich at Allium, chef Kevin Hickey's Gold Coat restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel, though not for the reasons you might assume. Usually when a place like this attempts to recreate a dish most often found in joints with no design budgets, the chef tries to dress up the sandwich with expensive ingredients, and the result almost always comes across as safe and boring. But it's a brisket sandwich's birthright to be a meaty mess, with juicy smoke-laden meat punctuated by crunchy burnt ends. Fortunately, chef Hickey knows this.
I should have known. As he related in his Neighborhood Guide of Bridgeport, this Chicago native knows a thing or two about what makes a great sandwich, and he pulls no punches here. Tender and juicy, without being overly fatty, the sliced brisket makes for a stunning foundation. Instead of covering it up, the chunky house-made sauce plays off the meat, adding spice, while crunchy fennel slaw and fried pickles add texture to this gargantuan sandwich.
It's so satisfying, I kind of forgot where I was. Though seven stories up in the Gold Coast next to a roaring fireplace, I found myself in the situation of needing to wipe barbecue sauce off my chin. Usually when this happens, I reach for the roll of paper towels sitting on the table and tear off a piece. But there are no paper towels at Allium; it's just not that kind of place. Luckily, I felt no shame in using the restaurant's cloth napkin.