Visiting Chicago was such a treat. I know of their culinary reputation, full of heavy hitter chefs and molecular gastronomy. But perhaps due to missing New York, I picked the newest and most New York-ish to try. Publican is situated right outside of the loop next to some very swanky club. And to be honest, Publican seems more crowded and noisy than its neighbor. Communal tables stretch over the long dining room. Placed intermittently throughout are standing tables, kind of like bar seating. A throw to the past bar lines one wall, while other walls are adorned with large almost grotesque pictures of pigs. The assorted country-style plates are mismatched to give it a more rustic feel. Their beer selection was remarkable. They have quite a few beers on tap, ones that are very unique and are rarely seen on tap. Not too mention their extensive bottled beer and wine list seems endless. The beers we tried were complex yet well balanced and very very drinkable.
The menu is divided unconventionally, not by appetizers, mains and sides but by category like seafood, pork (yes pork is a category) and vegetables. Things are meant to be shared and vary in portion size. While everything looks delectable, we had to start with pork rinds. Now the one’s you get in bags at your grocery store will pale in comparison, unremarkable to say the least and unnatural in pigginess. These pork rinds seemed freshly fried, delectate with a subtle porkiness. They were lightly coated in what seemed to be chili oil. The next dish we tried were mussels done with ale and beautiful crusty baguette. The mussels were succulent and the flavors were spot on. I truly enjoyed the ale version than the common white wine. We then tried their infamous half chicken, summer sausage and fries. The chicken in brined in molasses and brown sugar and then grilled. Brining ensures deep penetrating flavor throughout and a moistness that can’t be beat. (I have gone one in length about the virtues of brining) The chicken was almost perfectly cooked; one side of the breast was a tide dry while the other side was tender and plump. The summer sausage was spectacular especially with the chicken. They are known for their vast charcuterie, making various hams, terrines and sausages, and this sausage demonstrated their expertise. The fries were very different than a common fry; they had an earthiness to them, which I couldn’t figure out how they acquired it.
For dessert, a strong cup of coffee and their famous Belgian waffle with strawberries and honey butter. I will say the waffle was my least favorite part of the meal. While crispy and buttery, the dish seemed to be lacking. I am not one to complain about simple desserts, I believe those are the one’s you crave and yearn for most. But it just didn’t strike me as exceptional and a sauce was desperately needed.
Publican is a restaurant dedicated to PIG, yet they execute everything with ease. The tension between refined restaurant and country home seems to find a balance here at Publican. Overall, this popular new restaurant lives up to his reputation and shouldn’t be missed if in Chicago.