I’ll start out by saying that this, my final dinner in Chicago was an absolute delight and I highly recommend Publican. For our final night in Chicago, I had a list of some of the city’s top-rated restaurants that I was considering. Other than Rick Bayless’s restaurants, the only other spot I knew about prior to doing my research was Girl and the Goat. But even two months in advance, I couldn’t get a reservation there at a convenient time. The Publican came recommended by Emily and others. I liked what I saw of the menu and it was not too expensive.
The Publican is located in the West Loop neighborhood. Similar to Fort Point in Boston or the Meatpacking District in New York, this neighborhood was formerly home to warehouses, factories and wholesale markets, but in recent years has become populated with restaurants, art galleries, boutiques and condos. The particular street that Publican is on, West Fulton Market, still seemed relatively undeveloped though. Cobblestone streets added to the overall quaint feel.
This meal was a homerun if ever there was one. I did not realize ahead of time, but most of the dishes at The Publican are meant to be shared. This is not small plates dining though, the dishes range in size, from very small appetizers all the way up to large platters. So it was just my luck that we ended up going here with a large group and were able to sample several items.
Spicy pork rinds
Daily pickles- ramps, cucumber, and asparagus. These were a big hit at the table. The vegetables were still nicely crisp with a nice balance of sweet and sour.
Steak tartare- nicoise olives, truffled pecorino and honey
Ramps with romesco, marcona almonds and preserved lemons. The ramps, silky and mellow in flavor, were the perfect vegetable to pair with the rich and spicy romesco. The occasional bite would include a piece of lemon, adding a subtly acidic sweetness. The light crunch of the almonds contrasted with the tender ramps beautifully.
Broccoli rabe with garbanzo beans and feta. This alone would be an immensely satisfying entree. The creamy, salty feta and starchy chickpeas perfectly tempered the bitterness of the greens.
Escarole with burrata, hazelnuts and pickled golden raisins. This was my favorite dish of the night, but in all honesty, it’s hard for anything to compete with burrata, especially one this good. The escarole was soft and juicy with a charred flavor that contrasted nicely with the creamy burrata and sweet raisins. The hazelnuts added a pleasant crunchy texture and earthy flavor.
Sablefish with snap peas, bacon and mint
Farm chicken with summer sausage and frites. This and the rabbit below are some of the larger dishes that are best for a medium to large-sized group.
Rabbit ballantine with baby carrots, peas and cider-mustard vinaigrette
Blueberry Sundae with pecan sandies, whipped cream, butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream. Don’t ask why I, of all people, was content at that moment with just one dessert. But for just one, we chose well. It was a luxurious mix of tastes, textures and temperatures. The vanilla ice cream cold and smooth, the berries plump and slightly tart, syrupy butterscotch sauce, crumbly and buttery sandies and fluffy whipped cream. The tart and juicy blueberries and the sweet butterscotch sauce was a particularly well-done flavor combination.
It’s certainly possible to dine at The Publican in a party of two but the menu caters to diners who, like me, love sharing and trying lots of different dishes. I was thrilled with their vegetable offerings. There were at least three other vegetable dishes I would have happily ordered had we needed more food. It always makes me happy when a restaurant known for its meat (just across the street is their retail shop, Publican Quality Meats), excels in its non-meat dishes. I would happily return on a subsequent visit to Chicago. But the next time I’ll be sure to try several more desserts.
825 W. Fulton Market