When I was told the other day that Au Cheval was the home of one of the top sandwiches in Chicago, I wasn't surprised because of its spectacular reputation. When I heard that sandwich was a bologna sandwich, I was more than surprised. I mean, let's get real for a minute. How can a place take something as simple as bologna, a cheap product that is a prison staple these days, and turn it into something fantastic?
A little bit about Au Cheval before we go any further. Having grown up in Jersey (insert favorite Jersey joke here), aka The Home of The Diner, it is amazing to see a diner and a trendy restaurant all in one executed so well. The idea is not entirely revolutionary as it has been done before, but this one is just the right mix of both. It has great atmosphere, lively music, friendly staff, and most importantly, amazing food. Yes, you may have to wait a bit every so often (we got in within 10 minutes this time), but what other place is open as late as Au Cheval and has food this good?
Whether you are looking for finger food (their burger is one of their signatures) or upscale fancy food like bone marrow, you can have it all at Au Cheval. I have had one each of this month alone: it really was that good. Having had an opportunity to try a good portion of the menu, I haven't found anything I didn't like. If you have the opportunity, skip the booth and sit at the bar. The chefs are really friendly and it is an experience in its own right.
Duck Heart Gravy Hash
Before we get to the bologna, I have to mention the Duck Heart Gravy, which flows over a scrumptious crispy hash. The dish as a whole is unbelievable. It may not be for the squeamish, but this delicacy is certainly a fan favorite, so get over your fears and give it a try. If you're still hungry after that, make sure you go for the General Jane's chicken: think fried chicken covered in delicious sweet, spicy, and tangy sauce without the starchiness of a typical General Tso's sauce.
Let's get to the bologna sandwich, the real reason you are here. I probably should have prefaced this whole article by saying that I have probably had bologna no more than five times in my life; one being in Bologna where I had to try it simply because I was there. Needless to say, I have never been much of a fan. However, as a deli guy, I figured my love of deli meats coupled with the rave reviews it gets, meant I should give it a try. This house-made bologna is fried perfectly and set upon a buttered and fried brioche bun. The bun is not one to scoff at as it is one of the best I have ever had; both soft and airy all the while maintaining that crisp outside. Between the heaps of melted cheese, the gooey (mornay sauce, I believe), and the perfectly crisped thin slices of cured meat, is a complex flavor that you would never guess comes from that lunch meat you had as a kid. I can only think that if I had been sent to school with this sandwich everyday in my Ninja Turtle lunch box that I would have been the most popular kid at school, racking up those snack packs.
And here is a little known secret: Au Cheval is opening a deli soon by East Bank Club. You can find me at the front of the line.