AJ Walker, the former sous chef of the Publican, moved down the street last year to hone his butchery craft as chef de cuisine of sister butcher shop/café Publican Quality Meats. When he’s not behind the butcher block, you’ll often find him outside with a daiquiri or (after a particularly long shift) a shot and a beer. We checked in with him to find out his top picks for eating al fresco, spots for new and classic Chicago dining, plus a few tips on what to grill this summer.
Favorite patio spots: When Walker is off the clock, you’re likely to find him at Costa Rican BYOB favorite Irazú in Bucktown. Other favorite al fresco picks include Parson’s Chicken & Fish in Logan Square for fried fish and fowl and outdoor ping-pong; Matchbox in West Town for the margarita with powdered-sugar rim; and La Sirena Clandestina for Latin American eats and stiff drinks.
Trying something new: Walker suggests hitting up Pub Royale for inspiring bar food done at a high level.
In the mood for old-school: Shaw’s Crab House, River North. “It hasn’t changed in 30 years,” Walker says. The chef loves the restaurant’s stalwart dishes, from massive seafood towers and classic Caesar salad to king crab legs with a side of creamed spinach and hash browns.
Grilling tips: Walker’s current favorite grilling cuts are beef flap steak and pork coppa, which both benefit from hot, fast cooking, he says. “Flap steak is good as is—salt, pepper and maybe porcini powder to add a little depth,” while a pork coppa chop “would take a bright, acidic marinade incredibly well.”
Popsicles or Fudgsicles? Popsicles every time.