Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Publican

Nothing quenches my weekend morning thirst like a solid Bloody Mary.  And nothing satiates my weekend morning hunger pangs like a great brunch.  The Publican does both.  Really darn well.

My three friends (Steph C., Janice, and Frances) and I made it a point to go here while Steph C. and I were visiting Chicago because (1) Steph C.'s parents have raved about The Publican's Bloody Mary, (2) Steph C. and I love Bloody Marys, and (3) Janice and Frances both confirmed that The Publican was worth going to.  Sounds like three pretty amazing reasons to go to if you ask me.

So go we did, and lordie, what a great experience.  The moment I stepped into the restaurant, I felt like I was in a Portland eatery, complete with communal wood tables, fun light fixtures, dishcloths as napkins, booths closed off by swinging wood doors, a well-mustached service staff, riffs on classic diner uniforms, and unique plateware and cutlery.  The service was friendly, casual, and attentive, three things that noticeably added to the experience.

First things first.  I rarely write about the drinks I have at a restaurant, but when two-thirds of the reason we came here was for the Bloody Mary, how can I not.  Tito's vodka, a house bloody mary mix, house-made celery bitters, pickled cucumbers, onion, peppers, and corn.  All this, and a beer accompaniment.  We had the Three Floyds Brewing Co. Alpha King and the Brauerei Spezial Rauchbier Lager.  Both were delicious, but mostly existed to underscore just how delicious the Bloody Mary was.

This drink had everything I love about a Bloody Mary: spice, texture, and delicious pickled toppings.  A well-placed kick of pepper and spiciness with each sip, not too sludgy and not too watery, and perfectly acidic and mouth-puckering toppings to cure even the worst of hangovers.  Definitely a Bloody Mary to be reckoned with.

Our food came out relatively quickly, and before I knew it, our table was covered with plate upon plate of delicious food.  First up were some Spicy Pork Rinds.

Sizable pieces of airy, crispy, and addictingly cheezy bites.  Unlike many versions of pork rinds, these did not battle with my molars.  In fact, they practically submitted to them.  With just the right amount of porkiness and spice, these rinds accompanied the beers better than the Bloody Mary did.

Our table also shared some crispy Hash Browns.  Two orders were not enough for the table, but only because we scarfed down the beautifully golden and crunchy portions in mere seconds.  These were so tasty that adding ketchup was unthinkable.  But I added some anyways.  Hate on me if you want, but I freaking love ketchup.

First up, the Duck Confit Hash, because honestly, who can resist a hash with duck confit?  The dish came topped with two parmesan-dressed sunny side up eggs that opened up to a fragrant mix of caramelized cabbage, white beans, and cheesy potatoes.

The shreds of duck confit infused each rustic bite with just a hint of game.  The beans and potatoes were perfectly cooked, adding heft and depth to the dish.  The cabbage brought just the slightest bit of crunch every few bites.  The eggs were perfect, dousing the entire dish with its generous, rich yolks.  While this dish wasn't my absolute favorite of the meal (there were quite a few top contenders), I would definitely get this again, at least to share with the rest of the table.  Something about duck confit in an eggy breakfast hash makes me melt.

Another dish that was quite good, but that I probably wouldn't get again, was the Maple-Glazed Pork Shoulder.  The two main reasons I wouldn't get this dish again is because the large serving of pork shoulder was a bit overcooked for my taste and the grits were a little too stiff.  Don't get me wrong, this dish was still darn delicious, but the combination of the slightly dry pork and stiff grits made this dish a tad difficult to finish.

Everything else on the plate sang.  The eggs, like every other egg that meal, were delicious, selfishly wrapping its yolk around every other ingredient.  The kale was sweet with caramelization.  The pickled red onions were crisp and punchy.  The maple glaze on the pork was just sweet enough for a very savory dish.

The other dish that didn't quite live up to its potential was the Farmhouse Cheddar Biscuit, but only because the biscuit was a bit dry and because there was nothing particularly special about the dish.  The biscuit was, however, really great with the corny, spiced creme fraiche.  The sausage was standard, but well-cooked, and the egg, again, was delicious.  The citrus frisee salad was necessary, giving an acidic lightness to the plate.

The Red Wine Poached Eggs, however, was easily one of my favorites of the meal.  The eggs stole the show and indelibly poached my memories in its deliciousness.

Like lava, slowly descending the side of a mountain, the yolk oozed out of its purple-tinged encasing and consumed first the creamy béarnaise, and then the fragrant sourdough base.  Really, the béarnaise and egg could have been a dish on their own, but the bread did add that nice, starchy sourness to each bite.  The side of La Quercia prosciutto didn't hurt either.  Combining all these components with a couple leaves of well-dressed, vinegary arugula made it difficult to pay attention to the rest of the food on the table.  Surprisingly, the dry red wine found its way into the back of each bite.  So, so good.

My absolute favorite of the brunch was the Bucatini alla Carbonara.  I absolutely love bucatini because its long hollow center gives this pasta an unusual ability to cling to the sauce while also showcasing the flavor of the pasta itself with each bite.  The bucatini was the textbook definition of al dente and the eggy sauce was subtle and flavorful.  Add some perfectly salty and fatty pork belly, parmesan, and some seasoned pepper and you've got yourself a knockout dish.  Comforting, not too heavy, and absolutely addictive.

Drinks like the Bloody mary and dishes like the Red Wine Poached Eggs will permanently define The Publican as one of the best places to grab brunch in Chicago, and dishes like the Bucatini alla Carbonara make me think that The Publican is just as amazing for dinner.  If only I lived in Chicago...

The Publican
837 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 733-9555

GET: Bloody Mary; Spicy Pork Rinds; Hash Browns; Duck Confit Hash; Red Wine Poached Eggs; Bucatini all Carbonara.


  1. Omg the carbonara was SO GOOD! I don't think it's on the menu anymore :(

    I was already jonesing for a midnight snack... damn you Michael!

    1. Gahhh, they need to keep that thing on the menu for every meal and every day! I hope you got in a midnight snack! Haha.

  2. I am so happy I ate all of this. My life is richer for this meal.

  3. That oozing egg sounds delicious! I just want to slurp it up :D

    1. Thinking about that egg makes me go crazy! So good. Also, I'm loving your blog!


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