When I was little my younger sisters and I frequently sat on our patio and ate snacks after school. One of my sisters would always take the black olives from her white paper plate and place them on each of her tiny fingers, while eating cheese sticks wrapped in ham and salami. For whatever reason, this completely grossed me out. Little did I know, at the young age of four she was using her culinary prowess to indulge in her first charcuterie plate — sans plate. Perhaps her palate was more sophisticated than mine. Since then my tastes have matured, leading me to try many charcuterie plate variations (salami, ham, cheese and olives included), and most recently my appetite brought me to Community Tavern where the charcuterie program is unparalleled.
What is Charcuterie?
Of French origin, the word charcuterie is used to describe the dry-curing, smoking or cooking of meats. Yet charcuterie is not restricted to French cuisine, there are also Italian and Spanish variations, and at Community Tavern, Chef de Cuisine, Matt Saccaro is infusing classic charcuterie with his own creativity. With out-of-the-box seasonings, in-house preparations and dry-curing, and a wide array of flavors and textures, this is one of the most unique charcuterie programs in the city.
What’s on the Charcuterie Plate?
With two house charcuterie options, Petite ($13) and Grand ($24), each plate includes a variety of eclectically prepared meat, house-made toast, whole grain Dijon mustard, raspberry jam, pickled ramps and baby carrots.
The toast is a crunchy vessel on which to spread the Chicken Liver Mousse. The locally sourced Amish chicken livers are pan seared with shallots, garlic, Sauvignon Blanc and a splash of Brandy. At the end of the cooking process Chef Matt adds a few secret ingredients and purées the mixture with sweeter components to balance the flavors.
The Foie Gras Torchon (duck or goose liver) is sliced, sprinkled with salt, pepper and sugar and then wrapped in cheesecloth, poached and chilled (this preparation is what makes it a torchon). Chef Matt secures the foie gras in the cheesecloth with butcher’s twine and allows it to hang for two days. After it rests, it’s sliced cold and served at room temperature. This is another silky, smooth delicacy that spreads well on the crusty toast. Epicurean tip — add a little jam!
Perhaps one of the most thoughtful preparations on the plate, the beautifully dressed Chorizo Naranja is a creative masterpiece. The locally sourced pork sausage is tossed in coriander, paprika, orange zest and aromatic orange flower water. It is placed in a natural casing and dry-cured for 5-weeks. The flavors that develop in the drying process are smoky and nectarous.
Dry-cured for 8-weeks, the Spanish Andalusian Chorizo is slightly spicier. Spiced with smoked Spanish paprika, red chili, garlic and finished with sherry, this dish pays homage to Spain’s Southern Coast. It’s served in decadent slices that are complemented by the pickled ramps and Dijon mustard.
The Italian Salami di Tartufo is tossed in black truffles and pepper, placed in a natural casing and dry-cured for 8-weeks. This gourmet salami is an earthy treat that can stand-alone. The thick slices are made for decadent, carnivorous palates.
Lighter Items to Try
With Chef Joey Beato heading up this French-inspired restaurant there are a multitude of mouthwatering dishes to order alongside or after the charcuterie is gone. After indulging in such a deliciously meaty appetizer I moved on to lighter fare, though Community Tavern does offer a wide variety of steaks and other meat driven dishes.
The Tuna Crudo offers a delicate contrast to the heavier flavors of the charcuterie. Served raw with black olive tapenade, cherry tomatoes, chopped chilies, grapefruit and beautifully poached quail eggs, this is an elegant dish that showcases graceful preparation. The quail eggs and raw tuna are an exquisite pairing.
Pan Seared Gnudi, gnocchi’s lighter cousin, is prepared using ricotta in lieu of potato and has very little flour – it’s pasta without the pasta. Served with English peas, Swiss chard, charred red tomatoes, pickled mushrooms and tossed in red chili oil, shaved Pecorino cheese and brown butter, this gnudi packs a serious punch of heat that makes the taste buds tingle.
With an ever evolving charcuterie program, elevated appetizers and an extensive variety of seafood and steaks, this old world meets modern elegance Portage Park establishment is raising the bar on what it means to be a neighborhood restaurant.
4038 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL 60641
Featured Photo Credit: IMR