I don’t remember exactly when the newly opened Chop Shop arrived on my radar, but somehow I got the idea that it was a smaller version of Eataly, the famed slow food market and restaurant emporium recently opened in the River North. While I could see some common elements – butchery, deli and restaurants all sharing the same space with emphasis placed on quality products, it felt more like a gastropub than an enoteca.
The lovely cuts displayed in the butcher case inspire visions of intimate dinners and candlelight, while the bar in the back is a draw for eaters and drinkers with more immediate needs. A small demo station separates the two, with an apron-clad chef hard at work breaking down meat. I stopped for a few moments to watch, but felt it best to move on when he responded to my inquiry about whether he minded an audience with “whatever floats your boat” without looking up.
Undeterred, we headed to the bar to sample the wares. The menu is mostly a platform for its meats, which appear in multiple forms—deli sandwich, hot sandwich, and panini. The real star of show, however, is clearly the Meat and Cheese Board, an antipasto of Italian meats, cheeses and accoutrements that just about everyone in the bar was ordering.
Our very own wooden board arrived in due time, accompanied by a side of crusty charred bread. The meats themselves were delightful, but the lonely artichoke heart was clearly scooped straight from the can, doing nothing to improve its insipid flavor. My companion bit into it, flinched and remarked “If you’re going to take something out of a can, you better do something with it.”
On the other hand, the housemade porchetta was the best thing we ate all day and a truly a revelation. The chef and manager both seemed rather proud of how they’d made it, and I can’t say I blame them. Wrapped in pork belly to keep it moist, the pork tenderloin is stuffed with a blend of fennel, marmalade and other aromatics, giving it the kind of complexity that lingers long after you swallow. I’d heard of porchetta before, a traditional Italian roasted meat also featured as the sandwich of the day at Eataly on Thursdays, but I’d never actually tasted it. In one bite, the taste memory of porchetta and Chop Shop merged into one.
The Chop Shop is a great choice for a mixed crowd. Meat lovers will be giddy, but there is also an interesting assortment of salads, hand-tossed in bowls the size of the family-style salads served at popular pizza places. We spotted a lovely bowl of wild arugula on a nearby table, a billowy pile of feathery greens, peppered with beets, goat cheese and nuts and hungrily anticipated its arrival. Unfortunately, our salad was flatter and wetter than that our neighbors and lacking the acidity it needed to balance the arugula.
Surprising, amidst the sea of meat choices, there stands a lone ricotta gnocchi offering, perhaps an ode to Italy after all.