When I was a child, I’d make myself a bologna sandwich on squishy white bread with a slice of American cheese and mayonnaise. Sometimes, I’d toast the bread first. Later, I decided that it was best to toast only one side of the bread so the inside of the sandwich was soft and the outside was crispy. Other times, I’d put the whole thing into the microwave to melt the cheese. It kind of became a warm, slippery mess, but I didn’t care, because I was a child. As far as I was concerned, this was gourmet cooking.
I spent a large part of my childhood growing up in a rural area with my grandmother and uncle. My uncle has a good sense of fun and sometimes would come home with a summer sausage, a box of Chicken In A Biscuit crackers and a hunk of cheddar cheese. That was the best snack ever—a big step up from bologna sandwiches.
As I grew into adulthood, I developed Champagne tastes and was drawn to finer, more reputable cold cuts: prosciutto, coppa and bresaola. You never forget your favorite childhood foods, though.
The housemade bologney with smoked cheese and crackers at Public Services is my childhood snack all grown up. It’s a thick, hearty round of bologna—not those homogenous pink slices we grew up with. Like grownups, it’s much more complex, too.
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Chef Justin Yu (who oversees the food program at Public Services in addition to his regular duties at acclaimed Oxheart) says the bologney is based off a Tennessee rag bologney recipe. (The term “rag” refers to the mesh or cheesecloth the chub of meat was wrapped in.) “People used to bring rag bologney to barbecues to eat at the end in case there wasn’t enough meat,” says Yu. He thought of it on a trip to Nashville and that’ s how it ended up on the Public Services menu. (The backstory is also why it’s spelled “bologney” instead of “bologna” or “baloney.”)
He says it’s made of lean pork and pork offal cut with cereal. It’s then studded with pork fat and seasoned with black pepper, coriander and garlic. The casing is stuffed and then the chub of meat is smoked.
The accompanying cheese spread is a mix of cream cheese smoked with mesquite, cheddar, pickled onions, garlic, paprika, coriander and peppers.
As for the crackers, they’re just Ritz. With the other preparation involved in this deceptively simple bar snack, those don’t need to be complicated.