Chop Shop Does It All, But Does It Have The Chops?

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[Photographs: Joe Roy]

The newest Wicker Park food destination is Chop Shop! It's got everything—a butcher counter that serves sandwiches by day, an upstairs restaurant with a seasonal menu by night, and on the evening we visited, a purple-hued, and possibly dry ice filled, event space in the back roughly the size of a city block. My grandpa, the butcher (God rest his soul), would be amazed at just how far the humble meat counter has come.

Beginning a meal at a gourmet butcher shop with anything but the Signature Butcher's Board ($23.00 for meat and cheese) would be missing the point... at least in theory. The planked menagerie is artfully arranged, with cheeses (bleu, goat, and brie) to the left, meats (3-year-old guanciale, chicken liver mousse, and smoked salmon) to the right, and pickled watermelon cucumbers and roasted pistachios bridging the gap. The plate is fine—the mousse stood out, and I was especially smitten with the proper temped cheeses—however, it's hard not to compare this light-on-content board to the generous one at Publican, which surpasses in size, variety, and quality for a few dollars more.

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The Butcher's Burger ($14.00) is made from a blend of "ground prime cuts" and topped with aged cheddar, bacon, red onions, and a mustard leaning "CS Sauce." Served on a well toasted brioche bun, the properly seasoned burger was cooked as requested to medium rare. However, something  was off. Maybe it's how the burger spilled its juices all over the plate at first bite, or something about the room temp spreadable cheese, but everyone at the table, after admitting they liked it well enough, also firmly resolved that they wouldn't order it again.

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The Fries ($5.00 for a side or included with some sandwiches), though, are worth a repeat. Straddling the line between shoe string and french cut, they're salty and crisp, and plenty foldable if you're into that sort of thing (I am).

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The Chop House offers a few pasta options, including a rotating seasonal version. Today's Pasta del Giorno ($18.00) featured house made tagliatelle, braised lamb, and a red wine spiked tomato sauce called "Saul's Gravy." This was the table favorite: the pasta was chewy and textured in ways housemade pastas rarely are, and the lamb and gravy were stirred into the noodles with restraint, allowing each component its day.

I left my meal at Chop Shop feeling rather conflicted. Everything I ate was obviously made with care, but I don't know what to do with the fact that my favorite bites were cheese, fries, and pasta. Then again, the daytime offerings look pretty good—I'm thinking a trip to this hot spot in the sunlit hours is in order before I say any more...

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