“Pristine product, simply prepared.” That’s how Executive Chef Paul Kahan and Chef de Cuisine Brian Huston describe The Publican, a Chicago restaurant designed like a European beer hall and located in the meatpacking district.
I had first read about The Publican in Bon Appetit magazine and put it on my mental list of restaurants to try the next time I went to Chicago. Finally the opportunity arrived so I went this past weekend with my friend Cathy. For some reason, I was thinking it was a locavore spot, but I have to admit I didn’t do my research before going.
The About section on the restaurant’s website describes an “eclectic menu inspired by simple farmhouse fare.” But farmhouse doesn’t always mean your local farmer’s house. Indeed, the menu included sources from as far away as both U.S. coasts, and beyond. That’s where the “pristine product” comes into play. While my philosophy toward food is about local, organic, sustainable, and humane, I know that not everyone has these preferences. Having spent my summers growing up in Rhode Island, I would bet the Rhode Island Skate Wing on the menu was delicious.
A number of meat items came from Slagel Family Farms, which I had seen on Illinois menus before, but nothing was labeled “pastured” or “grassfed” so I asked our server about those products. His answer was that their animals are not grassfed nor pastured, although if you read the Slagel Family Farms website you’ll learn that the cows are fed “a diet of grass, grain and alfalfa, hay and wheat straw.” Their beef products are “natural” but nothing indicates the cows roam on pastures. Same with the chickens. And the pigs, in fact, are raised in “open lots.”*
So, I opted for the Lake Erie lake perch. I’ve got my own issues with fish as well–that’s another can of worms, so to speak, because of the farmed versus wild debate. I’m not sure consuming fish out of Lake Erie is better than “natural” beef. Still, I was happier eating meat from a fish that was likely freely swimming most of its life as opposed to a cow whose life I know nothing about or a pig raised in an “open lot.”
For dinner, Cathy and I started out with two delicious dishes from the Vegetable menu: the Pea Salad and the Grilled Asparagus.
Along came my fried lake perch, garnished with parmesan, bok choy and fried lemon slices. These were amazing! I had never had fried lemon slices before!
Cathy had the sirloin steak, which was topped with grilled ricotta cheese. (The steak is there somewhere…buried under the lovely salad!)
And who could resist a rhubarb dessert when it’s in season? We shared the Rhubarb Sorbet as well as the Rhubarb Waffle with Honey Butter. The sorbet was refreshing and a perfect finish for the meal. The waffle would have been a great start for breakfast! (But still, we liked it!)
While I’d like to see more “happy” meat on the menu, I was thrilled with the freshness and flavors of the dishes we ordered. There are many reasons to try The Publican—I’d love to hear about your experience!
*Note: While researching information for this blog post after dining at The Publican, I did learn that other pork items on the menu come from Becker Lane Organic Farm in Dyersville, Iowa, where the pigs are pastured.