Bringing Home The Bacon

With Primehouse Executive Chef Rick Gresh and Thomas Schlesser from Design Bureaux

A spot dedicated to bacon—it’s a carnivore’s dream come true, and the latest brainchild of Chef David Burke. This innovative meat- candy sandwich shop at The James Chicago Hotel features a truly exciting menu—to everyone except little piggies, that is—where the spotlight falls on a selection of mini sandwiches. Or “handwiches,” as Burke calls them, defined as a sandwich or small delicious bites that can be held with one hand. Among the types of bacons used are Allan Benton’s Classic Country Bacon, Niman Ranch Black Pepper, and Dreymiller & Kray’s Matilda Bacon. Primehouse Executive Chef Rick Gresh claims he can easily eat three to four at a time, citing his favorite as the River North Bacon Dog, an updated version of the Chicago classic hot dog.

“Chef and I had multiple tastings in both Chicago and New York,” says Gresh. “We ran through probably 30-plus different sandwiches to figure out the right balance for the menu.” Gresh chuckles, recalling a time when he grabbed one of his sous-chef ’s “atomic” bacons instead of a slab of angry bacon and roasted it off. “Chef Burke carved off a piece and chewed it down. He was on fire! We had to give him milk, bread, you name it, just to try and cool off his tongue!”

Whimsy abounds on the menu—and off. Also for sale: bacon lip balm and handmade soaps by Faith’s Farms (one of Gresh’s local organic hog suppliers), bacon bandages, bacon toothpicks, bacon T-shirts, and temporary bacon tattoos!

Perhaps the only complaint is that the space isn’t big enough, as customers happily spill out onto the sidewalk at all hours, making it the ultimate takeout and delivery spot. “This was the space that we had to work with; we had to figure out how to maximize it,” explains Gresh. “It’s really an outlet of the main kitchen off Primehouse. We do all the prep in the main kitchen with the Bacon Bar as a finishing kitchen.” Regardless of size, an enormous amount of work went into perfecting the concept, adds Gresh: “From the Pleat-Pak packaging and adjusting my team’s prep sheets to sourcing new products to use.”

Designed by Thomas Schlesser of Design Bureaux, Burke’s Bacon Bar packs a mighty punch in terms of its overall look, taking inspiration from the cultural world of the butcher shop. “The counters are reminiscent of traditional butcher tables, the walls are finished in a custom wall covering made of wrinkled butcher paper, the signage was fashioned after nostalgic meat-counter signs, and antique butchers’ tools adorn the walls,” explains Schlesser. “The salt wall is definitely one of

Chef Burke’s signature pieces. Here, we wanted a big surface that would make a statement while displaying the slices of meat to their best effect.”

No detail too small, Schlesser researched countless historical precedents for butcher blocks and butcher counters from across the U.S. and Europe before settling on a design. “From my research, I came up with a modern interpretation of a butcher counter, taking details from several of the source images collected.”

It’s not the first David Burke restaurant on which Schlesser has worked. He also designed David Burke Kitchen, recalling one of the first times he met Chef Burke there. “I asked him what he had in mind for the cuisine, so I could work on celebrating that in the design of the space. Chef Burke started talking about his interest in using a duck press to create one of the dishes, which he also wanted to display in the dining room. I was the only one in the place who knew what a duck press was, as I have a collection of culinary antiques and had been searching for just the right duck press for years! I immediately knew we would have a great time working together. David Burke is a chef’s chef, and I like to think of myself as a chef’s designer.”

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