A Halloween-Appropriate Meal of Offal—Organs and Off Cuts—Reflects the Sustainable Ethos of Table, Donkey and Stick

Duck gizzard ragu, blood sausage, lamb heart bordelaise: a menu full of literally visceral animal parts and crimson sauces is perfect for Halloween, which is why the Logan Square restaurant Table, Donkey and Stick has served an offal meal around the holiday every year since 2013. This year’s takes place on October 30, and requires a prepaid reservation. But the spooky meal isn’t a gimmick—it’s true to the year-round ethos of the welcoming neighborhood restaurant, which opened ten years ago in December.

“It’s consistent with what we always try to do,” says Matt Sussman, the proprietor, beverage director, front of house manager, and developer of bread recipes for Table, Donkey and Stick. The current regular menu proves that, with smoked beef heart, coppa di testa, and tongue torchon all available. “It’s just fun to take that opportunity once a year to really celebrate it and get in the Halloween spirit as well.”

Charcuterie is always on the menu, and always made in house—smoked, cured, potted, ground—from meat procured from local farms. Sometimes the restaurant buys a whole pig or forequarter of a cow and butchers it into various preparations. Using every part of an animal, including its organs and other parts not typically seen in restaurants, prevents waste– and sustainability is a focus of the restaurant, which features produce as local as apples from the tree on its own patio or maitake mushrooms foraged from nearby forests.

Table, Donkey and Stick is inspired by the cuisine of the Alps, where there is a strong tradition of food shaped by agricultural rhythms and demands.

“These are places that, historically, people have a very close connection to the land,” says Sussman, who found himself fascinated by the intersection of cultures, cuisines, and languages ​​while traveling in Switzerland, France, and northern Italy. “Like in the Midwest, you have a winter, you have a lot of traditions of preservation. If you’re butchering a pig, you make blood sausage with the fresh blood. You have to do something with the heart and liver and things. You make a lot of salami with the meat. You make coppa or pancetta to keep things through the winter. [We’re] kind of trying to lean into those old-world ways of eating and interacting with food and food products.”

That might sound like a lot of work—and it is. “Unless you’re really passionate about it, it’s kind of a climb pushing uphill to do it,” Sussman says, pointing out that it’s not only easier but more economical to buy premade products and common cuts of meat from large commercial farms, given the labor costs of breaking down a whole animal and preserving and preparing it in various ways. (No one at Table, Donkey and Stick makes less than $22 an hour, and benefits have been available for full-time employees for several years.)

Table, Donkey and Stick “was always a passion project first,” says Sussman. He opened it when he was 25, after the Michelin-starred Bonsoiree, where he was general manager, closed and vacated the space. He and his staff have now sustained the intimate restaurant for a decade, with minimal changes to the overall approach, although chefs have come and gone and the wine program has expanded. The current chefs are Matt Saccaro, who came from the neighborhood restaurants The Portage and Community Tavern, and Brian McGrath, who came from Etta and The Albert. (Sussman also opened the sandwich and charcuterie shop Danke in the Loop’s Revival Food Hall in 2016.)

The restaurant’s approach allows the staff to indulge unusual interests and pursuits, such as the tonics, shrubs, bitters, and liqueurs that can be made from Alpine herbs and are used in seasonal cocktails, or obscure dishes. The inaugural offal dinner featured pig trotters stuffed with sweetbreads and mushrooms, a recipe made famous by the British chef Pierre Koffmann.

“It’s the kind of thing that a cook who’s really nerdy about food—I think they might make it in culinary school or something, but it’s never on the menu anywhere because it’s an elaborate preparation, and there’s not a ready market for pig trotters, unfortunately,” says Sussman.

The lack of appreciation for off cuts in the United States means that Table, Donkey and Stick’s offal meal is surprisingly affordable, at $50 for five courses, given the amount of preparation and technique required for its dishes. Not many people or restaurants buy hearts, ears, jowls, or trotters, so suppliers have to find other ways to use them. For instance, farms “can’t give away kidneys,” which are instead often used for dog food in the US, Sussman says. “One year we used kidneys and did a kind of beef-kidney pie, a classic British thing.”

“As a restaurant, I think it’s almost more important to set an example,” he says. “Obviously, we care about our [environmental] impact, but I think it’s more about showing people that these things are delicious, and it’s important to think about where the products you’re consuming are coming from and supporting smaller, more local suppliers.”

Such an approach—“farm-to-table,” in the often-used nomenclature—has become de rigueur for restaurants over the past few decades, but Table, Donkey and Stick takes it a step further with its focus on making everything from bread to charcuterie to syrups in house, and determination to use as much of an animal or other product as possible.While offal had a moment in the culinary limelight and is still common in non-Western restaurants, it has mostly faded from Western-style menus other than in a few forms: duck liver mousse, chicharrons. But then Table, Donkey and Stick is determinedly not trendy—which makes sense, given that its inspiration is a style of Alpine eatery that emphasizes simplicity, tradition, seasonality, and local ingredients.

“Fundamentally, what we’re doing—it’s a pretty humble thing,” says Sussman. “It’s just sharing what we do and trying to show people that there is a different way to experience food and wine and drinks…Food is about a community and sharing something, whether it’s a story or a dish or a wine. So that’s kind of how we see ourselves.”