Chicago, Illinois – The Publican (Brunch)

Restaurant: The Publican
Cuisine: American/International/Modern American/Gastropub
Last visited: June 16, 2012
Location: Chicago, IL (West Loop)
Address: 837 W Fulton Market
Transit: Madison/Wabash
Where I stayed: Hyatt Regency Chicago (Taxi recommended)
Price Range: $15-25 brunch, $20-30 dinner

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 5 (based on what I tried)
Service: 3.5
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • Chef Paul Kahan & Chef Brian Huston
  • Since 2008
  • Eclectic Gastropub
  • Farm to table
  • Eclectic menu
  • Daily/Seasonal menus
  • Meat/Seafood focused
  • Pork highlighted
  • House made charcuterie
  • Vegetarian options
  • Local favourite
  • Casual, but sophisticated
  • Moderately priced
  • Patio seating
  • Intense beer program
  • Artisan beers carefully selected
  • Wine/Cocktails
  • M-F: 3:30-10:30pm (-11:30pm Friday)
  • Sat: 10am-2pm (brunch) 3:30-11:30pm
  • Sun: 10am-2pm (brunch) 5-10pm

**Recommendations: Pork Schnitzel & Waffle, Farm Chicken, Publican Bacon

Chicago is home to many of America’s best chefs, and when it comes to a well recognized name with a mini empire of successful restaurants, Chef Paul Kahan is one to come to mind. He seems to be one of those chefs and restaurateurs with that magical touch, where every restaurant he opens turns to gold. He already has the highly raved about award winning restaurants Avec, Big Star and Blackbird and this is another Chicagoan favourite, The Publican.

It is essentially a farm to table gastropub where people can drink very well and eat just as well. The menu is the creation of Executive Chef Kahan and Chef de Cuisine Brian Huston and it focuses on meats and seafood with a particular emphasis on pork. Yes! Pork is one of my favourite proteins so any restaurant celebrating the whole hog is one I want to pig out on. Pun intended. They specialize in house made sausages, charcuterie and rillettes and the food caters well with their hand selected beers, wines and spirits. All the servers, bartenders and managers have their beer server certifications so it’s something they take seriously, but it’s also not pretentious.

The restaurant is very casual with communal tables (and even communal bathrooms) and the atmosphere is relaxed yet modern. The long wooden tables, communal dining, gastropub philosophy, passion for pork, and butchery have been the food “trends” for the last few years, and the love for all of the above continues to grow.

The Publican opened in 2008 and it also reminded me of places like The Spotted Pig from Follow Me Foodie to New YorkCochon in Follow Me Foodie to New Orleans, Au Pied Du Cochon in Montreal, and Charcut Roast House in Calgary… I’m still waiting for a whole hog restaurant in Vancouver, BC (my hometown). Other restaurants I went to in Chicago embracing the beauty of the pig included The Purple Pig and The Longman and Eagle. Again, I really love pork so my restaurant selections may be biased.

I had all of Chef Kahan’s restaurants on my Follow Me Foodie to Chicago dining itinerary, but I only had one eating opportunity left. It was my last day in Chicago and I already had dinner reservations, but luckily The Publican was open for brunch. However I really wish I came for dinner instead because surprisingly the brunch menu didn’t showcase many options for pork and nothing for charcuterie or rillettes. They’re not really brunch items, but since it’s their speciality I did expect to see at least a few.

The Publican is one of those restaurants that chefs, food enthusiasts and locals recommend regardless of having tried it. All of his restaurants have rather outstanding reputations and the chef and brand is one that people seem to naturally trust. The food was well thought out, prepared and executed with high quality ingredients that were properly sourced. The portions were also fair and quite homestyle without being lazy and it was reasonably priced for what they were serving. Since I came for brunch, I can’t speak for the dinner menu, but based on brunch I would definitely come back for dinner.

I didn’t realize until I arrived, but they also have Publican Quality Meats, their butcher shop, which is literally a cross walk away. It’s a small shop that supplies many of Chicago’s reputable restaurants, but it is open to the public for purchase. They have a small seating area in the back and it operates as a sit down cafe with a selection of sandwiches, brunch options, cocktails and desserts from 11am-5:30pm and until 5pm on Sundays. For a Vancouver reference, Publican Quality Meats reminded me of Big Lou’s Butcher Shop meets Meat & Bread meets Oyama Sausage. I wanted to come here after brunch at The Publican, but I didn’t want to over do it especially since dinner plans were at Alinea, and I wanted to be hungry and really ready for that.

On the table:

**Pork Schnitzel & Waffle5/6 (Very good)

  • Apricot mostarda $18
  • Switching up the classic Southern comfort food of Fried Chicken & Waffles with something new!
  • He’s known for the pork, so let’s bring on the pork!
  • I love sweet and savoury dishes so “chicken & waffles” is no stranger for me.
  • The best Schnitzel I’ve had to date was actually in Vienna which is the origin of schnitzel. Typically it’s made from veal, but pork is more popular nowadays.
  • The one in Vienna was pounded thin and as big as the plate you see above.
  • This one matched the size of the waffle and was appropriate for a sandwich, but it probably could have been 2-3 times the size if it was pounded.
  • Although this one wasn’t pounded thin, it was pretty freaking fantastic as just a deep fried piece of delicious pork!
  • The pork was tender and moist with a super crunchy batter that was well seasoned with spices, but it wasn’t spicy.
  • It was reminiscent of Tonkatsu (Japanese deep fried pork cutlet) with a dense and coarse Panko crumb and likely a pre brine before being breaded.
  • I couldn’t tell if the pork was tenderized in buttermilk beforehand, but it was very tender and a good quality pork with good flavour.
  • The waffles were crispy and airy light which was unexpected. They didn’t use much batter to make them.
  • I thought they would be dense yet fluffy, but they were literally crispy throughout and not bready at all. It made the dish as a whole not as filling.
  • I would have loved some bacon and thyme in those waffles too, but they were still good.
  • The apricot mostarda was a brilliant addition to the maple syrup.
  • Mostarda is an Italian condiment made with candied fruit preserves and mustard. It’s typically served with meat.
  • The apricot mostarda had a sweet and tangy contrast followed by a subtle mustard flavour and it complemented the savoury pork schnitzel well.
  • I could taste orange juice with the apricot puree and it was likely reduced with some apple cider vinegar.
  • It was well balanced with acidity and sweet honey and/or maple syrup notes.
  • I wouldn’t mind more kick from the whole grain mustard or some added dijon because I found it quite mild, but still delicious.
  • Some caramelized apricots as a topping would be nice too and although a bit pricey, it was still excellent and I would order it again.

**Farm Chicken5.5/6 (Excellent!)

  • Half chicken with PQM breakfast sausage & hash brown $24 (Please allow 35 minutes)
  • They’re trying to make this chicken famous and I have high hopes!
  • They serve the chicken for dinner too which is a good sign of a house favourite.
  • I recommend sharing this for brunch and it’s more than enough for 2 average appetites.
  • Chicken can be boring and bland, but when it’s well sourced and not overcooked, it’s absolutely delightful!
  • This chicken was from Slagel Family Farm (Illinois).
  • They raise all natural free range chickens specifically for eating and another breed specifically for laying eggs.
  • The chicken was marinated in lots of fresh herbs and the flavour was reminiscent of Italian seasoning, but with added chili flakes for heat more so than spice.
  • It was a young chicken and the meat itself had good natural chicken flavour and even the breast meat was silky smooth and incredibly juicy.
  • I think it was brined in some lemon and/or orange juice because that flavour had absorbed into the meat and I could taste some in the marinade.
  • It was possibly sous vide before being roasted because the moisture was locked into every shred of meat.
  • I would have loved a crispy skin and this one was a bit chewy, but it was still a fantastic chicken with perfect criss cross grill marks.
  • Instead of roasted potatoes it was served with hash browns which is more appropriate for brunch and for dinner they serve it with fries.
  • The hash brown was basically a Potato Latkes or shredded potato patty or pancake.
  • It was shredded potatoes mixed with flour, egg and salt and fried until golden brown, but it didn’t seem to have grated onions.
  • The hashbrown was semi crispy on the outside and creamy and moist inside, but parts of it were soggy especially where the meat and sauce touched – which is expected.
  • The sausage had me just as excited! It was made in house and you can purchase it at Publican Quality Meats.
  • It had a snappy skin, but at times that skin was a bit chewy.
  • The flavour of the sausage had that intense umami savoury flavour and it tasted like cured Chinese sausage, but better due to the quality of ingredients.
  • I’m usually not keen on cured Chinese sausage, but I loved this. It was a very high quality version of it and the texture and flavour was superior.
  • The sausage was more moist and softer than the cured Chinese sausage, but it still had a bite and firmness.
  • It was a bit sweet from perhaps honey and it also reminded me of a honey glazed ham which could have been used in the coarsely ground meat mixture.
  • Although all sausages are made from leftover scraps of pig, the scraps in this were all good quality and it wasn’t just fat either. There was good pork flavour and meat.
  • The whole plate was delicious and each component was its own thing.
  • I wasn’t too crazy about the hash brown, but I would still order this again and it was a very impressive chicken and sausage dish.
  • It would change the way you feel about chicken if you’re one of those people that never order it because you think it’s boring or going to be disappointing.
  • The same goes for the sausage. This is not an average sausage. Even if you’re not a sausage fan, this could convince you otherwise.

**Publican Bacon - 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Burton’s maple syrup-braised Publican bacon $7
  • I was debating between this or the spicy pork rinds as my side, but it wasn’t until I saw it arrive on my neighbour’s table that I was convinced that I had to order it too.
  • Bacon has always existed, but people have gained a new love for it.
  • There’s a serious obsession going on and sometimes it can get annoying, although I do love bacon.
  • A faux Twitter account for Bobby Flay once said “Throwing a piece of bacon on sh*tty food doesn’t make it good, it makes it sh*tty food with a piece of bacon on it”… and I totally get it.
  • However this wasn’t just bacon. And yes it was as freaking delicious as it looks!
  • Calling this “Publican Bacon” does not do it justice.
  • Bacon is cured and shaved from the belly (in the US), but this was pieces of braised pork’s belly and I wanted it in my belly!
  • It was excellent quality pork.
  • Naturally pork belly has a lot of fat, but I like mine to be balanced with meat and not just all fat.
  • This was the perfect ratio and I think they trimmed a bit of the fat.
  • It was incredibly tender being braised and there was a nice caramelization and crispy bark that had formed around the edges.
  • The fat was creamy and buttery and the meat was moist and there were no chewy gelatinous fat qualities to it.
  • The flavour actually reminded my of Chinese BBQ pork and it tasted like “char siew”.
  • I think it was braised and glazed in maple and honey because I could taste honey notes and to do this all in maple would be expensive.
  • The syrupy sauce was like caramel and it was sweet and sticky yet still savoury and I dipped my waffles in it too.
  • I’ve had braised pork belly and countless amounts of Chinese BBQ pork, but this was the best of both worlds and I would highly recommend ordering it.
This isn’t from The Publican, but Glazed and Infused Doughnuts is just a few stores over. The Maple Bacon Long John is not a new concept, but it’s still liked.
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The Publican on Urbanspoon

3 Comments

  • BA says:

    We went here for brunch too – got recommended the bacon by a friend who had been there a month earlier. A-MA-ZING! The only thing I wished The Publican had was just one dish of “favourite” – eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, etc – I didn’t like having to order everything a la carte.

    We had a hilarious walk from the Monroe L-train station – quite eerie to walk in the district on a quiet Sunday morning….

  • Mijune says:

    @BA – Yes!! That bacon is deadly! Oh see I liked ordering a la carte so then I could try more things. I know what you mean though. I didn’t walk from the L-train station, but now you make me curious!

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