The Publican

If you have ever tried to eat out on a public holiday such as July 4, you may know what a difficult prospect that is. This year, after a long July 4th weekend of eating, drinking, and sun exposure, Eric and I still had a couple guests in town and wanted to show them the Chicago dining scene. We were tired of pizza, hot dogs, and grill outs at the beach, and while all those things are lovely in their own right, we were in serious need of some refinement.

When the first restaurant we tried was not open, we started walking, trying to find something else close and delicious – to no avail. Then I made phone calls to a few of my favorite restaurants in the City – those that I knew were sure to please. Nothing was open. Finally, I tried The Publican. It was my last shot, and they were open for regular hours! As fate would have it, it was one of the best meals I’ve had in a while and it turned out to be the perfect place to show off Chicago and our fabulous food.

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The menu is organized by meat, fish, or vegetable and by the size of the serving, with smaller portions on top and the largest portions on the bottom. Everything is served family style, so we ordered an array of choices from small, medium, and large plates.  The service was outstanding as well – we told our server what we wanted to eat, and he quickly organized our entire order into courses. He was also extremely knowledgeable about the extensive beer list – he had a real grasp on every beer they offered and made recommendations for everyone at the table..

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We started out with a small portion of the daily pickles – sweet cucumber pickles, pickled onions, and giardiniera. The first course also included a dozen West Coast oysters and pork rinds – not your regular from-the-street-stand pork rinds. I’m talking about some pork rinds that mean serious business. They were crisp and light with a perfect dusting of a more perfect seasoning. While I have not eaten many pork rinds in my life (a travesty, I know!), I feel I can safely say these will forever be the standard by which I measure these little treats.

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The next course – tuna escabeche – was served with big, juicy tomatoes and a rich – but not overpowering – olive oil. The tuna itself was, of course, high quality and perfectly seared. After the first course, I expected nothing less.

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For me, the highlight of the meal was the third course. I was not yet overly fully so as to diminish my tasting experience, but also, the flavors – the flavors! – of the third course were utterly addicting, completely extravagant, and well, let’s just say food no longer tastes the same. I’m talking about the trout. A deboned, whole trout served with white and green cauliflower. The skin – flawlessly crisp – and the luscious, explosion-of-flavor flesh were only matched in greatness by the saucy drippings on the plate – all of which were soaked off up with bread. You would have thought we licked the plate. We didn’t. But I’m sure I can speak for everyone when I say we wanted to.

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Our final course – duck hearts, lamb sausage, and pork belly – were all delicious and put me into a food coma beyond comprehension. The duck hearts were served atop crusty bread with apricots and mushrooms. The lamb sausage would have been my favorite meal of the evening if I hadn’t been completely stuffed to the brim by the time I ate it. And the pork belly, served with a chocolate sauce, was divine. At the table, I described it as being the lightest, most refreshing chunk of fat I’ve ever eaten – if that’s possible.

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In conclusion – go to Publican. This post is full of superlatives and what-may-seem-like exaggerations, but I promise you won’t be disappointed. The service, the beer list, the food, the ambiance – it all adds up to one great experience that highlights Chicago at its best.

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