One of the last scenes of The Jungle, Upton Sinclair’s 1908 masterpiece about Chicago’s meatpacking industry, takes place at a Socialist rally. Downtrodden and abused stockyard workers, many from Eastern Europe, all hopelessly exploited, froth in righteous anger as the orator chants, “Chicago will be ours! Chicago will be ours!”
A century later, most of the stockyards have been shut down, but Chicago’s place as a carnivore’s carnival has never looked more assured. A crop of new restaurants with a crew of young chefs are reconnecting to the city’s storied past. “We’re coming back to our roots,” says Cosmo Goss, the 24-year-old head of charcuterie at Publican Quality Meats, an artisanal butcher shop and the newest addition to Blackbird chef Paul Kahan’s meat empire. “What it comes down to is if you start with a great cut of meat, you simply don’t need to jazz it up.” At both PQM and The Publican, where meat is substantially jazzed up by chef Brian Huston, all meat—beef tongue, blood sausage and country ribs—is sourced from local farms. Charcuterie has also taken root at Bread & Wine, which opened in late 2011. Helmed by Curtis Gamble, the bistro pays homage to the old Eastern European days with kielbasa and terrines as well as appealing to the modern carnivore with a beef & chorizo burger and the Black Earth lamb and mustard seed meat loaf.
But the real mark that meat has made its return is the menu of Allium, the hotly anticipated restaurant at the Four Seasons. One section is devoted to things “From The Meat Locker.” Also on the menu is what is surely the most haute Chicago–style hot dog ever. It boasts “housemade everything.” “With our reputation as the hog butcher to the world,” observes Allium chef Kevin Hickey, “Chicago has always been known for great cuts of meat. But now, restaurant patrons are looking for serious, high quality cuts of protein cooked by creative chefs in different environments.” For meat lovers, Chicago is finally theirs.