After a year of social isolation, could anything be better than sharing a giant plate of cured meats and cheese with friends at a charming bar? At least in my universe, the answer is no, which is why I was excited the moment I heard about Lardon (2200 N. California Ave.), the new salumeria and restaurant in Logan Square.
The first thing a visitor will notice when they visit Lardon is the charcuterie “cave,” a tiled room complete with a window for observing the deliciousness. That’s where all of Chef Chris Thompson’s housemade goodies — all of the charcuterie served at Lardon is housemade — will be on display. To get ready for the opening, Thompson worked with Salumi Chicago (which generously offered space in their aging room) to hang more than 2,000 pounds of cured meats, everything from genoa salami to nduja.
Thompson has been learning the craft of charcuterie since he was a young chef, picking up old world techniques and recipes along the way. “Years ago, I was working with chefs that didn’t know they were sparking an interest in me; they wanted a task off of their plate,” laughs Thompson. Owner Steve Lewis chimes in, “There’s more to making this than a recipe card and cool spices. There’s a lot of knowledge. You can’t just read it in a book — you have to know when things are done.”
The upside for diners will be a constantly rotating list of cured meats, made from whole pigs butchered and processed in-house. If you’re lucky, you might be there on a day when there’s coppa (cured pork shoulder); if it’s out of stock, try some French-inspired saucisson sec. Since the restaurant is working with whole animals, anatomy dictates, to some extent, what is on the menu every day. “A pig only has two shoulders, so you only get two coppas out of a pig,” explains Thompson. “That’s 15 pounds, and you have to do something with the other 180.” He doesn’t seem to be having any problem figuring out what to do with it.
Its opening menu features salads and sandwiches, and one standout, if you’re an Italian sandwich lover like I am, is the Italiano. “It starts with a smear of nduja across the bread,” Thompson says, “Then a mixture of sopressata originale and sopressata calabrese, some sharp provolone, shredded lettuce, a Mighty Vine tomato, and housemade giardiniera.” Think of your typical Italian sub — but with each of the meats handmade 15 feet away.
Eventually, Lardon will launch a full dinner menu, with a combination of pork-focused entrees (expect things like braised pork belly and porchetta) and French dishes with touches of charcuterie — think mussels with nduja or a classic frisee salad with lardon. You can pair dishes with drinks from the nerdy, funky beverage list, which has a huge selection of amari (bitter Italian liqueurs), orange wines, and easy drinking aperitif-inspired cocktails. Lardon will be a space that a diner can experience however they want — lunch, a drink after work, an indulgent afternoon cocktail, or a full dinner with the family.
Thompson is excited to bring classic curing techniques to Logan Square, especially those that many people don’t get to see up close (or through a window into a charcuterie cave). “All the meats and things on the boards tie into that old world ideology of food preservation,” he says. “It’s about trying to feed your family in the cold dark winter using what’s available in the summer and fall.” Or in his case, trying to feed his new neighborhood.