Editor's Note: Over 100 years after Upton Sinclair muckraked Chicago's stockyards and frightened the world, and in spite of the general wisdom that "laws are like sausages; you never want to see one made," Chicago is a city proud of its sausages. Sausage City is a weekly chronicle of the best encased meats in the Windy City.
Thus far, Sausage City has focused mostly on European-influences sausages, in part because Chicago has a strong tradition of Polish, German, and Italian butchers. But that's changing today, because the good news of Thai sausage, in this case from the superb restaurant Thai Aree in Irving Park, is a gospel worth spreading.
I am personally just beginning to learn about the various Thai sausage varieties—some of the fermented styles totally fascinate me—and the sausage on the menu at Thai Aree is not named anything particular. They simply list it as Thai Sausage ($6.95). So it's hard to judge exactly what style they're making it in.
The flavor of the sausage itself, though, is simply stunning. You taste the juiciness of the pork first, but there is also a deep savory component that you can't quite place. No doubt there is garlic and ginger, and the faint citrus note of lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves, but also something secret—much in the way a curry paste doesn't reveal each element in its makeup but becomes a whole.
All this is accented with the smokey flavor of charcoal and the faint char on parts of the sausage casing. The sausage comes sliced and is served with whole peanuts, slivers of fresh ginger, pieces of green chile, and crisp lettuce for wrapping it all up.
Thai Aree is a small, unassuming little restaurant whose food has always impressed me (as does their wonderful hospitality). I find myself drawn there on a regular basis, and more often than not, it's because I'm craving this sausage.
Thai Aree House
3592 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60641 (map)