Sunday, September 30, 2012


This summer the two of us took a vacation traveling throughout the United States, culminating with a week in one of North America's culinary capitals: Chicago. A formerly under appreciated heavyweight in the dining scene, Chicago was long unreasonably regarded as a mid-western "B" version of places like New York City and Los Angeles. But things have changed, people have begun to pay attention to Chicago, and those who visit are rapidly learning that their unfounded perception of the windy city as being a backup singer to the city of angel's and the big apple are terribly misconceived. Chicago has a reputation of being an unapologetic rough-around-the-edges town with a shady past, but it's also home to America's third largest population and one of not only America's - but the worlds leading centers of commerce. With all those people and all that money, you can bet that the food here is no slouch, a fact to which we can attest after having experienced it first hand. Staying at a hotel on the "Magnificent Mile" amidst high end retail stores and museums, the Chicago we  experienced was classy, clean, pleasant and most importantly to us: delicious. The following series of posts, current one included, will focus on the meals we ate and the restaurants we visited in Chicago, so stay tuned because this is going to get really good.

The first meal on the all-star cast of restaurants we'll be writing about over the coming weeks was a brunch we enjoyed sitting street-side at The Publican; a James Beard award winning pork and beer-centric gastropub in Chicago's Fulton Market neighborhood, a meat packing district. The Publican is owned by executive chef and renowned restauranteur Paul Kahan. You may also be familiar with Chef Kahan's other well-known and highly respected Chicago hot-spots and classics like Blackbird, Avec, Big Star or most recently PQM, a butcher shop, specialty foods market and café directly across the street from The Publican.

Although we ate our brunch outside on the terrasse, with an interior decor as unique as The Publican's we'd be foolish to overlook mentioning it. The glass enclosed entrance lends way to a dining room who's walls are textured to look like antique tin tile, painted in neutral earth tones. In the center of the restaurant is an enormous wooden communal table with matching chairs that looks like it belongs in a bavarian beer garden, from what we could tell it appeared to be able to easily accommodate more than 80 diners at once. There are dozens upon dozens of spherical light fixtures hanging from the tall ceilings, and semi-private wooden booths each with it's own saloon style swinging doors line the back wall.

Our late morning meal began with a couple of bloody marys and an order of ricotta & zucchini bread. Two thick cut slices of surprisingly sweet zucchini bread were really as much like bread as banana bread is, which is to say that texturally it's really more like cake. The zucchini bread was topped with juicy, fresh blackberries and a refreshing punch of torn mint leaves all served over the top of a hefty dollop of creamy ricotta that rounded the sharp edges of the sweetness out very nicely. The dish was drizzled with an ingredient we were previously unfamiliar with called "saba", it served more so as a sweetener than a means to moisten the zucchini bread which was already very moist. A quick google search after brunch identified saba as a syrup made from grape must.

Ricotta, Zucchini Bread, Blackberries, Saba, Mint - 8$

The first of two mains we ordered was pork schnitzel served with red-eye gravy and roasted corn. Unfortunately, this dish was disappointing for several reasons. Although on it's arrival the breading on the schnitzel appeared to be nice, the underside was a little bit too far beyond the ideal golden-brown we would have preferred; plating the nice side up and trying to hide the burnt side beneath is a classic novice cook's trick that may, at times, fly under the radar of the chef during a busy service, but never goes unnoticed by the client. Although the gravy had good flavor we were unable to identify the taste of coffee for which red-eye gravy is named, and it's uncharacteristically rich texture although pleasing, robbed the corn of it's sweetness. Upon ordering, we asked if it would be possible to add a fried egg to the dish, and we were glad we did. Had it not been for our request to add the egg, we would have been hard-pressed to classify this dish as brunch rather than dinner if not for the time of day. On the other hand, when we received the bill, the 3$ surcharge for a single egg was a little harder to swallow than the enhancement it provided was. Hey, at least our waiter liked the idea - we heard him eagerly offer the egg addition to the tables around us the rest of the morning as though he just invented sliced bread.

Pork Schnitzel, Red-Eye Gravy, Roasted Corn - 15$ (Egg +3$)

If our first main was a strikeout, the second was a home-run beyond a shadow of a doubt. Soft flatbread with a kiss of flavor from the grill was spread with a cooling cumin raita, followed by crumbled, lightly spicy and smokey chorizo sausage, sweet and faintly acidic halved summer cherry tomatoes, refreshing chopped cucumber and torn mint leaves. The fatty, salty component provided when you broke the yolk of the fried egg on top tied the whole thing together beautifully. This dish was perfectly balanced and truly flawless. Unlike the previous dish, this one was certainly every bit as indicative of the level of conceptualization and execution we had expected coming to The Publican - nice save.

Flatbread, Chorizo, Egg, Cucumber, Tomatoes, Cumin Raita - 14$

We ordered a side of maple syrup braised bacon with our meal because, well.. Do you really need an explanation? If you see the words "maple syrup braised bacon" on a menu and don't order it, we're going to need to sit you down and have a talk with you. Sinfully fatty and extremely thick cut, sticky slabs of pork belly were at once salty and sweet. In our minds, this is what they serve for breakfast every day in heaven.

Burton's Maple Syrup Braised "Publican Bacon" - 7$

The Publican is open 7 day a week offering "afternoon" and dinner menus, plus two different brunch menus served Saturday and Sunday mornings from 10AM - 2PM. Service is friendly and laid back without falling victim to bordering on unprofessional. The quality of the food cannot be questioned and with the exception of the schnitzel dish that we weren't big fans of, everything else we ordered including our cocktails were top notch. We look forward to our next trip to Chicago to return to The Publican for their dinner menu. From the looks of that dining room, as well as the oyster selection and menu online, it's sure to be great eats and a raucous good time.

Stay tuned for post 2 in our 6 part series highlighting the restaurants we visited while in Chicago. Next up: Alinea

The Publican
837 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL

The Publican on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. I wouldn't recommend these foods if you want to trim down or remove belly fat in your body but I think you could still try it once in a while, just do it in moderation. Also don't forget to exercise daily.