We've spent many dinner nights there and come about 10pm when we are ready to leave with a full belly, it is not unusual to see people still trickling into the restaurant and getting seated. Reservations are hard to come by if made at the last minute and even on weeknights the bustle never dies down.
The Publican focuses on pork, oysters, and beer. The beer list is very extensive that at first glance it could look intimidating especially with the excellent myriad of beers made up of local and international microbrews that a lot of people have probably not heard of. But, ask your server anything about beer and he/she will have answers for you. Tell your server what type of beer you like e.g. wheat beer vs. hoppy beer, and they will have recommendations. Or, say that you like Blue Moon, and asked what beers are similar to that. They will have answers for you. Every server at The Publican has achieved the first level of beer certification in the Cicerone program. The Publican really does know how to stay on top of their game.
Their food menu is printed daily as evidenced by the printed date on the bottom of the menu. Some of the core food items remain almost unchanged but many of the other items are on the menu on a seasonal basis. Returning to The Publican again and again still brings surprise to us each time with the revolving food items that are introduced only for a short period of time to the menu.
The radishes with unsalted butter and sea salt are really quite addictive. Eaten raw and fresh, it is quite a good (and healthy!) way to snack on with beer and acts as a great starter to the meal.
We like beets but since they don't make it to our kitchen at home often enough, beets at restaurants are always a treat for us. The chunks of beets is served with a generous blob of mozzarella cheese, topped with pea sprouts, and then dressed pure and simple with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The little gem salad is always such a great conversation starter because of what the item comes with: crispy pig ears. Before this scares anyone off, it really doesn't taste anything scary. Served in form of crispy thin strips, the texture could pass off as crispy bacon without the saltiness that sometimes consume bacon meat in general. One would never have guessed that those crispy strips are pig ears added to the huge and crunchy romaine lettuce and fennel strips dressed with buttermilk vinaigrette.
The aged ham is always a must-have for us. We generally like to do a taste of three hams since each variety has its own characteristics. The serrano ham from Spain is rich and is the most among intense among the three; la queria americano from Iowa is smooth and mild; the benton country ham from Tennessee is sweet and perhaps the lightest among the three.
The halibut crudo goes beyond expectations with its very smooth texture and thick slices. Light enough to be eaten before a heavier entree, it is complemented with delicate chunks of plum, cucumber, cilantro, and lime.
The caramelized pork belly is always a pleaser and arguably one of the best we have had. A bite of the pork belly melts in the mouth each time. A combination of sweet and savory, it is heavenly.
We admire restaurants that take risks and introduce food items that could go either way on the likability scale of someone's palette. An increasing number of restaurants today, e.g. Girl and The Goat and The Purple Pig, are embracing offal in the their food preparation. The Publican is no exception and manages to transform them into excellent dishes. Offal has long been served as part of a meal in many parts of the world and many American restaurants today are not afraid to embrace it. Any thing can taste good if prepared well, and the fried veal brains dish is no exception. Initially we were not sure what to expect of it but as soon as we saw it on the menu and being the foodie who will try anything, T said "We're ordering it". To say that the dish came out well would not be doing it justice. It exceeded expectations and was beyond good; it was excellent. The bite size pieces are first coated with very well seasoned batter and then deep fried. The resulting pieces are perfectly crispy on the outside and very smooth on the inside. It almost feels like fried tofu. The fried veal brains are complemented with celery and beets.
The grilled squid comes with a hint of Asian influence. The pieces of squid, tentacles included, are tender at every bite. When not prepared well, squid can easily take on a rubbery texture but that is not the case here. The squid is first grilled and then tossed with szechwan ground beef and string beans.
The Publican does offer Sunday brunch as well which makes an absolute treat for a Sunday morning. In fact, we like to make it a tradition of having Sunday brunch at The Publican after we've ran a race in the morning. Hand pulled pork sandwich, fries with an egg, sourdough bread with soft boiled egg, a huge pot of mussels (I generally have one whole pot all to myself), waffles with housemade preserves... they make our Sundays more perfect.