Thursday, September 2, 2010

Heirloom Tomato Madness at Custom House Tavern

Owner Sue Kim and new Chef Perry Hendrix have taken Chicago TomatoFest to a whole new level.  They are doing so many things to help us complete the garden at Central Park and 12th place, it's hard to know where to begin so allow me to present the meal I had there last week. 

To start, take a look at the menu:

That's correct - they have FIVE dishes featuring Heirlooms from which they will donate $0.50 for each dish sold to preSERVES.  Well, that is sure generous, and we love the fact that they are sharing the story of TomatoFest with every customer who comes in the door, but how is new Chef Perry Hendrix using these heirlooms.  Quite well, actually.

Gazpacho was my first choice.  Chef Perry uses a healthy dose of garlic and a touch of heat, both of which were balanced with small cubes of watermelon, and I think a bit of watermelon juice splashed in at the end.  The result was a run of flavors that complemented the tomatoes instead diverting from the flavor. 

Chef Perry's "Bacon" at Custom House Tavern.
Next up I went for the BLT, of course, and had the good fortune of wandering into the kitchen to see what Chef was up to.  The answer was surprising to say the least.  Once a week, an entire pig's head from Slagel Farms is delivered to the restaurant.  Chef Perry debones it and then wraps the remaining skin, cartilage and muscle into a tight roll.  There is enough muscle in the cheek to make for a far less fatty cut that I expected.  After it is wrapped, the roll is then preserved for a few days in what tastes like rosemary, rosemary and more rosemary.  As a fan of rosemary, I thought the flavor was a great addition.  Instead of having a smokey, more traditional bacon flavor, this is herbal and bright.  Fascinating.

Next up, thin slices are sauteed before they go into the sandwich which is constructed with a thick piece of brioche, which I would argue is critical to absorbing the mayo and the tomato juices that one hopes will run all over hands while devouring an in season BLT.  (Is there any other kind?)

And now we come to a critical juncture.  What sort of heirlooms are being used by this talented young Chef who is brand new to the Chicago scene?  Turns out he has selected (at least on the day I was there) the Cherokee Purple, one of the most delicious of all heirlooms thanks to its rich, dark sweetness.  Well played, Sir!

Put it all together and you have a BLT that makes the trip to Custom House Tavern a must-try destination for lunch in the loop these days. 

Go for the BLT and stay for the Heirloom Tomato Infused Vodka drinks. That's right there is more.  Pictures and details follow in our next post...

1 comment:

  1. Oh my, that BLT looks amazing. Will have to try this place, soon!