Burke's Bacon Bar wants to rescue your next meeting

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Behind the counter at Burkes Bacon Bar.
The work-through-lunch meeting is a double-edged sword. On the one hand: free lunch. On the other hand: wraps made of plastic turkey rolled in a spinach tortilla you could patch a roof with. Which proves that, culinarily at least, there is no free lunch.

This is the problem that chef David Burke, who has a miniempire of steak-driven restaurants around the country, and chef Rick Gresh, who runs David Burke's Primehouse, in the James Chicago hotel, have set out to solve with Burke's Bacon Bar, located in a pocket storefront on Rush.

At first glance Burke's Bacon Bar looks like a food truck without a truck, serving slider-size sandwiches, most with bacon, from a window. Meats dangle from a high-tech warmer—including, a bit tongue in cheek, cans of Spam, which authentically turns up on a Hawaiian-inspired sandwich called the Big Kahuna Spamwich. But as a media preview earlier this week revealed, Burke's Bacon Bar's truest porky excess comes out in forms that can only work for a group—in particular, a group of people who expect to be in a conference room for a very long time.

The sliders—which they call handwiches—number about ten right now, from a list of about 30 different recipes that they've worked up. Gresh says they'll rotate in and out seasonally. They're $4 each (three for $11; a few cost a little extra) and range from an "Angry Reuben" made with pastrami from Indianapolis's Smoking Goose to shrimp salad on a lobster-roll bun to a vegetarian one called "Smoked Eggplant Meatball Parmesan" (a robust eggplant aioli is the "meatball").

Clockwise: River North Bacon Dog, Chilly Willy, Five-Spice Duck.
  • Michael Gebert
  • Clockwise: River North Bacon Dog, Chilly Willy, Five-Spice Duck

Each of them (except the vegetarian one) utilizes an artisanal bacon—ranging from bacon from Benton's Country Hams in Tennessee to one made by Dreymiller & Kray, an old butcher shop west of Chicago, using Goose Island Matilda in its cure. To reduce packaging, they come wrapped in a unique pleated paper wrap (which sort of makes them look like origami pot stickers). Three would make a good-size lunch, with just the right combination of chef imprimatur and bacony indulgence for this moment in our gastronomic lives.

But the real show comes if somebody orders from Burke's Bacon Bar for a meeting. You can throw in the multiflavored cheesecake lollipops that have been on the restaurant's dessert menu for a while (they're $25 per dozen), or you can order . . . a Burke's Bacon Bar birthday cake:

David Burke watches as the birthday cake is rolled in.
  • Michael Gebert
  • David Burke watches as the birthday "cake" is rolled in.

As Rick Gresh says, and Alfredo Garcia could have said before him, "What do you do with the head? Every pig's got one." Stephanie Izard makes pig face; Gresh confits the head in pure pork fat for six hours, then deep-fries it to a crisp exterior, stuffs the snout full of candles, wheels it in ablaze, and slices you up plates of melty jowl and cheek meat, downy white pig fat, and crispy skin, served with guava barbecue sauce and soft white buns.

OK, so this part didn't really turn out to be dessert, and Gresh admitted it was still in the prototype stage—this was only the second time they'd confited the head, and the first batch went so long that it turned to mush. He's also not sure about the price, and given the size of the knives and the carving skill involved, it probably won't be a to-go item, either. But as the climax for a meeting held at the restaurant, it's certainly dramatic, and just crazy enough to work as a way to keep everyone in a pork-fat-induced haze through even the most droning presentation.

Chef Gresh carves the head.

Burke's Bacon Bar, 610 N. Rush, 312-660-7200, burkesbaconbar.com; Sun-Fri 11-2 AM, Sat 11-3 AM

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