“I DON’T KNOW IF WE’VE GOTTEN ENOUGH credit for it. but we have maybe the most ambitious bread program at a restaurant of our scale in the city,” says Matt Sussman, co-owner and general manager of Table, Donkey and Stick in Logan Square.

The Alpine restaurant—that means meaty and French-Germanic-Italian-leaning without being too explicitly any of those—has a nice regular neighborhood clientele. But you can tell he wishes they got more recognition for the quality of food coming out of the kitchen of chef Scott Manley, a veteran of Vie, Blackbird and other top meaty-earthy kitchens, perhaps best known for the quality and inventiveness of his housemade charcuterie.

Well, they’re about to get their wish for bigger exposure—they’re the latest of the restaurants to be announced for Revival Food Hall, the 24,000-square foot food hall in the Loop’s The National building at 125 S. Clark, where a spin-off called Danke will offer bread and its frequent companion charcuterie, along with wine and beer. Their involvement isn’t really much of a surprise—Revival developers 16″ on Center announced yesterday that Furious Spoon would be one of the vendors, and Furious Spoon co-owner Shin Thompson also co-owns TDS (as everyone abbreviates it), which occupies the space of his once-upon-a-time Michelin-starred Bonsoirée.

Graziano prosciutto

 

As Sussman says, 16″ on Center was interested in working with TDS because “they were specifically looking for charcuterie. I think in their minds, there’s a lot of opportunity for that to drive the happy hour.” While Manley, who was already ramping up operations outside TDS by planning to make charcuterie for The Fifty/50 group’s upcoming Steadfast (while retaining his chef position at TDS), was a natural choice to turn to.

The name, Danke (which of course means “Thanks” in German), seems pretty inspired to me, since it hints homophonically at Table, Donkey and Stick (without adding any more words) and, as Manley says, “It reinforced the gentle, Germanic nature of what we do. Which, I emphasize gentle—we’re not a German restaurant” in the clichéd oompah-music sense. I sat down with Sussman and Manley to talk about it, and they showed off an example of the kind of thing they plan to make—what Manley calls “The Secret Sandwich,” a combination of duck liver mousse and schweinekopf (pig’s head) on rye baguette. It’s occasionally been on the menu, but he says it’s been more likely to turn up “if a cook is hungry, or if a server asks a cook really, really nicely.”

The secret sandwich.

The secret sandwich.

FOODITOR: So what’s the concept, exactly? What would I see as a customer walking up?

SCOTT: It’s going to be sandwiches with an emphasis on cured meats—we’re going to try to avoid any specific references to deli sandwiches. More pâtés, maybe cured salamis, that sort of thing.

MATT: And with a heavy focus on housemade breads, and housemade charcuterie items. Which I think distinguishes us from pretty much every sandwich shop I can think of. Cafe Marie-Jeanne is making their own bread, they’re putting a good foot forward, and they make their own chopped liver, so there are other people trying to do this—but I don’t think anybody in the Loop is trying to do that.

The backstory is that we’ve always done the bread and charcuterie here. It’s always been the foundation of the program.

SCOTT: We’re focusing on sandwiches for this and in fact, we’ve tried to do sandwiches a number of times here,  and it’s just not the right venue for it. Unless it’s a hamburger on a Monday.

MATT: Even though they’re damn good. People have asked about buying bread, buying duck liver mousse, buying other charcuterie items since we opened, so it’s always been something that we thought about. And I’ve always been interested in contributing to the baking scene in Chicago, and there are a few people doing interesting things—but considering how big this city is and how exciting the food scene is in general, it’s actually kind of sad how bad the bread scene is in general. It’s always been an interest of mine, and Scott has gotten into it as well—

SCOTT: I dig bread.

MATT:  So it seemed like a good opportunity to take what we are most passionate about, and get it to more people in a package that is more friendly to volume, like a sandwich, or items of charcuterie. As a whole, I think sandwiches will drive sales, but we also think selling people a baguette and some duck liver mousse to take home at the end of the day, that could be a big part of it as well. There aren’t a lot of options to get good bread in the Loop, and charcuterie.

SCOTT: Charcuterie is not really a lunch food in America—

MATT: It’s a happy hour food.

SCOTT: If you put it next to the bread, people are perhaps less prone to eating it than if it’s on the bread. So that’s the big difference with making a sandwich out of it. I suppose if people come in and say, I want that, but can you just put it on the plate… Sure, I can do that!

But we will have a deli case for you as well, and within the first several months we’d like to make it so you can come up and we can slice meats for you. Or cheeses, or even some other prepared goods as well. Potentially we’ll have some sausages at times—I’m intending to have some rotating sandwiches, weekly specials, scheduled, where ideally those would be hot sandwiches. Pastrami, or—

So grilled sausages?

SCOTT: We can’t grill in the building, so we won’t be grilling them—if we do it’ll be grilled ahead of time, and we’ll hold them. I’m actually not too sure how likely that is at this point. But it is one of the things we’ve been throwing out there.

Matt Sussman and Scott Manley

Matt Sussman and Scott Manley

How did you get hooked up with the developers of this project?

MATT: Well, Furious Spoon is part of it, that news just broke, and Shin is a partner in that, obviously. We talked to the folks at 16″ on Center about ideas we had, and we did a tasting and developed this concept for it—they were specifically looking for charcuterie. I think in their minds, there’s a lot of opportunity for that to drive the happy hour, because they’re going to have a bar in this space, so this would be something where you could get a cheese plate or a charcuterie plate at five o’clock, when you come down at the end of the day with a couple of co-workers.

We’re excited to be part of that, as well, but we’re focusing on the sandwiches because we already do the charcuterie plate thing. Not that it will be exactly the same as what we do here.

SCOTT: I’d say it’s going to be more traditional style charcuterie service down there.

Which means what?

Pickles and mustard and a little preserves, and bread. Where here we give you very specific garnishes for each item—it’s a full plate, almost. So if you’re getting duck liver mousse here, you’re getting smoked brandied cherries, chiles, and oregano.

In terms of your space, what’s it going to be like?

MATT: We’re excited about our space, which is different from most of the stalls—which are more like a standard counter, that you walk up to. We actually have a ten-seat bar, that’s right in the middle of the space. So we’re hoping to translate some of the beverage program that we do here in kind of a miniaturized version, focusing on beer and wine to go with the charcuterie.

So a deli counter, and a bar. I think the bar will be more of a happy hour thing, but some people will have a glass of wine at lunch, which would be great [he adds wistfully]. 

Do you have enough room to make all of this bread and charcuterie?

SCOTT: Not yet…

MATT: Most of the production will be at a combination of here, and a to-be-determined other site. Certainly for the bread, we can’t do the bread here.

SCOTT: The bread’s the main thing, we can do the meat here, the meat’s not an issue. It’s just the timing of the thing, whereby, if we’re doing bread here, we need to be out of [the kitchen] by 9 am, basically.

MATT: I don’t know if we’ve gotten enough credit for it, but we have maybe the most ambitious bread program at a restaurant of our scale in the city, at least that’s doing dinner and isn’t mainly doing bakery-cafe type stuff. There are Michelin places that do bread, and it’s not as good as our bread is, and we’ve got a tiny kitchen and a shitty 30-year-old oven—

SCOTT: It took us two and a half years to get it as good as it is—

MATT: It was good when I did it at the beginning (laughs). 

SCOTT: It’s been excellent the last year.

When you say ambitious, in what sense?

MATT: We bake naturally fermented, sourdough baguettes every day. We bake pretzels and pretzel rolls every day. We bake what I think is a phenomenally good sunflower-oat, whole wheat, also naturally fermented bread, pretty much every other day—that bread kind of needs a day to take form, it uses a very high hydration dough. There aren’t a lot of places that do any of those things that are at this scale—you buy your buns, you buy your bread for your charcuterie plate—

SCOTT: And you buy your charcuterie for your charcuterie plate!

MATT: We’re already putting a lot of thought and a lot of time and effort into producing that stuff, so it seems logical—we can bake a lot of bread, the way we do it, in not much more time than it’s taking us to produce here. So we think that we have a lot of value to add to this kind of venue. Literally, just more oven, that’s what we need.

danke4b

How’s the space coming along, or is it still a big open hole?

I think it’s probably come a long way since we were there, what, a couple weeks ago?

SCOTT: I know that they sent us, they had the structure for the bar built, they didn’t have anything on it yet. It looked like it’s coming along but, we haven’t been there in weeks.

Did you ever expect to be in a food court?

MATT: Not a food court, a food hall…

SCOTT: We’re required to say this, everything is going to be run by local restaurants and chefs—

MATT: They are looking for people who are serious about what they’re doing, and are independent local operators. If it was actually a food court, it wouldn’t have been a good fit for us because we’d stick out like a sore thumb. People would be like, how come this isn’t like a $6 toasted Quizno’s sandwich?

 


Michael Gebert is 1/3rd of French-German-Italian as editor of Fooditor.


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