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$
Pork Schnitzel, Red-Eye Gravy, Roasted Corn - 15$ (Egg +3$)
Flatbread, Chorizo, Egg, Cucumber, Tomatoes, Cumin Raita - 14$
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$
Stay tuned for post 2 in our 6 part series highlighting the restaurants we visited while in Chicago. Next up: Alinea
837 W Fulton Market