Where can you find vegetarian Slovenian Bread Dumplings, blood sausage, an assortment of European cheeses, cocktails with fennel shiso bitters and homemade bread all under one roof? At Table, Donkey, and Stick (2728 W. Armitage Ave.) of course, tucked away on the corner of California and Armitage Avenue a bit down from the Milwaukee Avenue madness. While Table, Donkey, and Stick has been serving old-world cuisine to the Logan Square community for six years, new Executive Chef Justin Moser is bringing some alternative techniques and flavors to this neighborhood staple owned by Matt Sussman.
Moser joined the Table, Donkey, and Stick team in May. He brings a refreshingly sustainable approach to European cuisine along with a vast array of experience from other well-renowned restaurants. He was the former Chef de Cuisine at Salero and part of the opening teams at Trencherman, Gilt Bar and Bangers & Lace.
Chef Moser’s Roots
He has humble beginnings as a server in Rockford, Illinois where he began his restaurant career and worked his way up. Food has always been central to his lifestyle as his family is from the South. His passion for food started at age four, when he almost burned down the house cooking. The “community of food,” produce, and animals have been fascinating to him, he said.
Moser doesn’t claim to specialize in a specific type of cuisine but has experience with many types of cuisines ranging from Asian to European flavors.
“I’ve been really fortunate to work with a lot of people with different specialties,” Moser said. “We learn by doing things together. Three years ago, I learned to make bread at Salero, where we developed a country bread. It was a new experience for me. With the charcuterie here [at Table, Donkey, and Stick], making the salamis was something I never even attempted before. When you’re in Chicago, there’s a large community where you can ask questions and reach out to people.”
Having been a long-time Humboldt Park resident, Moser was ready to leave the heavily saturated restaurant scene of Randolph Street and work closer to home. While many chefs aim to open their own restaurants, Moser is not very interested in taking that traditional path.
“I didn’t want to open another restaurant because everyone opens a restaurant. I wanted to take over a cool neighborhood joint that’s kind of small where friends could come in and hang out, and I thought Table, Donkey, and Stick is ‘that’ restaurant,” he said. “The concept is awesome; the people who work here are incredible. The space is great and it’s an industry-friendly restaurant. What we do here is cook the kind of food that we want to eat—it’s not something a lot of people do.”
Moser’s Approach to Cuisine: Sustainability and Humor
Now that Moser has become part of the Table, Donkey, and Stick team, they are moving in even more of a sustainable direction. About 75 percent of their food is locally sourced, adding a degree of social responsibility to their small business model. They serve “mountain food,” which is “about preservation and using what you have around you. It’s the foundation of our food—blood, liver—simple things cooked very well,” according to Moser.
Working with food that is in season brings Moser much excitement since it enables him to be creative yet simple with his approach. He cherishes experimenting with flavors, adjusting the seasoning and ingredients to make that “perfect” dish, which Moser humbly acknowledges involves teamwork. For example, they just recently re-did their burger and everyone on the team had to come up with something to add to the burger.
Food also tastes delicious when made with a sense of humor. Moser loves to be playful with his culinary creations and serves them in a “tongue and cheek” manner.
“It’s important to always keep the idea that cooking is supposed to be fun; you can get away with goofing off a little bit when you’re a cook, he said. “For example, the names of the cocktails are silly sometimes—one right now is called “Two Feet on the Floor,” which was inspired by one of the employees here whose parents told him to always have two feet on the floor when he was growing up and had girls over,” Moser shared.
With a loyal customer base from the neighborhood, Moser is inspired to consistently change the menu. They change it about 2-3 times a week, which can include an ingredient change or entrée featured, such as serving lamb chops instead of lamb shoulder. Get ready to see a new Cucumber Tartine on the menu, which is an upside-down version of a traditional Tartine. It includes cucumbers, buttermilk, caviar, and a dark rye bread on top.
Vegetarians, Vegans, Dietary Restrictions
While Table, Donkey, and Stick may have the reputation of being an “old-world” charcuterie joint, they have quite the multifaceted menu with pescatarian and vegetarian options. Moser loves the culinary challenge of making vegetarian and vegan dishes.
“You always have to have a vegetarian option; with vegetarianism and veganism becoming more common these days, I enjoy doing vegetable dishes because it helps you think differently and get outside the concept of building dishes around meat,” he said.
The vegetarian entree they have right now is a Slovenian rye bread dumpling. “We started with a sauce made with kohlrabi and butter and worked backward from that. It’s a simple sauce with a bread dumpling,” he added.
They also plan on creating and serving a vegan corn masa dumpling. Vegan dishes can be a unique challenge since European cuisine tends to have a lot of dairy in it. In spite of this challenge, Moser is incredibly inclusive of individuals who have dietary restrictions, whether it’s being vegan or having a nut allergy.
“It’s a fun challenge because you learn how to use different ingredients to make [traditional] dishes. For example, you can use seeds instead of nuts,” Moser said. A prior chef had taught him how to make cheese out of sunflowers creating a remarkable dish that can be refreshing for people who are vegan or lactose intolerant, he said.
While Table, Donkey, and Stick is no longer a “new” restaurant, Moser clearly brings new approach and techniques. He is pushing “to make the restaurant even better than it already is, which is a task and we have a young kitchen staff. We’re going to grow as a team together and make the restaurant the best it’s ever been.” Table, Donkey, and Stick is a “perfect fit” for Moser where he plans on remaining a chef forever. He finds the Logan Square area to be progressive with the kinds of people that he likes to be surrounded by, he said.
Special nights at Table, Donkey, and Stick
- Moser is incredibly excited about Industry night on Monday nights, where he wants it to be a place for people to go on their day off. “It’s good to have people come in and see your friends. I look out the window on a Monday night and know half the people sitting at the bar,” he said. They have $10 burgers, $5 poutine, 99-cent High Lifes and $3 whiskey shots.
- On Tuesday nights, you can come and learn all about the wine from owner Matt Sussman, who extremely knowledgeable about wine and is a certified sommelier. A special wine is featured by the glass.
Writer’s Review: A Taste of Old World Europe in a Quaint Setting
With a name like Table, Donkey, and Stick, you might wonder what in the world is going on in this small restaurant with an unassuming yet endearing exterior. But the interior is as rustic as the exterior. It’s dimly lit with a welcoming bar, where you can see some of the chefs in action through a narrow window. Since it’s a smaller restaurant, it is good to make reservations ahead of time, which is what we did since we went on a Friday night.
Our server had some pizzazz—basically the feel of a typical Logan Square server. Table, Donkey, and Stick has a decent cocktail and vast wine menu so whatever you’re feeling, you should be able to find. I had a glass of the Cabernet Franc. I think a complex red wine goes perfectly with the hearty kind of food served.
They have a small plates concept, so be prepared to spend a bit of money as it is on the pricier end of dining. We ordered
a few small plates and then a large plate. We ordered the Spanish cheese, which was aromatic and pungent (how cheese should be) and came with their local honey and walnuts. We also started with the Yukon Gold Potato Latkes, which were basically little potato latke tots. They were perfectly crispy, salty, and the roasted garlic aioli it came with added a savory softness to the dish. Sometimes aioli can be thick and intense, but this aioli had a perfect balance of thickness and oil and wasn’t overwhelming.
To continue our savory journey, we ordered the Soft Shell Crab served with a herbaceous pesto, a generous serving of dill, and grilled pearl onions. The soft shell crab made eating the crab extremely easy; no mess involved and the breading was really flavorful and paired seamlessly with the soft shell crab. Even though the sauces had distinct flavors, they all complemented one another in an authentic manner. It was incredibly flavorful!
For the large plate, we ordered the Struklji Bread Dumpling, which was their vegetarian large plate option, though they did have a pescatarian large plate option. Since their menu is relatively small, you’re not bathing in a sea of options as a vegetarian. I can’t remember the last time I ate a bread dumpling since there’s usually meat in them, but I was extremely impressed with how innovative and mouthwateringly delicious it was. The bread dumplings were served with a yeast butter, crispy morel mushrooms, and a crunchy broccoli purée with peas. The flavors were complex and balanced while being the perfect portion since bread dumplings can be heavy.
Table, Donkey, and Stick takes an incredibly innovative approach to Old World European classics. I am excited to see the creative concoctions of new Executive Chef Justin Moser. Table, Donkey, and Stick continues to add charm and uniqueness to a neighborhood saturated with restaurants.