Chicago-- The Publican Restaurant
I love Chicago. My Mom's family is from there and I spent most of my childhood summers running around and doing everything the city has to offer for an adventurous child. I was also lucky enough to live there for my last three years of high school with my twin sister Amy (we had been shipped off from our house in Mexico in the hopes that our Grandpa would be better able to discipline us).
Today I try to make it back there as often as I can, and each time I do I am surprised by what a friendly and accessible city it is. And the food--- I always tell people that Chicago has one of the best food and drink scenes in the US.
This post is specifically about the Publican Restaurant, located in the old meat-packing district of the city. I have gotten to know the Publican well because my best friend Esther from those high school days works there as a manager.
The Publican is beer- focused and appropriately looks almost like an European Beer Hall. The space is dominated by one giant, long communal wooden table that forms an L-shape and takes up the center floor. If you don't want to sit next to strangers, you can request one of the private booths lining the walls, with big wooden swinging doors reminiscent of old pig stalls. Keeping with the swine theme, the walls are dotted with varying and interesting depictions of the pig.
The menu is based on meat, fish and vegetables, and changes daily to reflect what is fresh and in season. The last time I was in Chicago visiting Esther I got to sneak along on a group "field trip" with the restaurant staff to a Wednesday morning Farmer's Market, led by head chef Brian Huston. He walked us around the market, stopping to chat with all the vendors that he obviously knew very well. I was fascinated to learn about all kinds of vegetables I didn't even know existed (and we got to sample some great cheeses).
Everyone who works at the Publican seems to be really cool and to honestly love their jobs. I guess they have different "events" every week similar to the Farmer's Market field trip, which I think not only helps the employees bond but also gives them a real understanding and pride in their workplace.
Back to the swine theme, it's not surprising that the meat part of the menu focuses on pork, which is apparently sourced from Iowa. But my favorite part about the Publican is that food and beer seem to be held in the same esteem, and when they come together as well as they do here, they create an unforgettable experience. The beer list is super-interesting and the staff can immediately help you choose based on your taste and what you're eating. They also have incredible wines and after dinner drinks (of which I have sampled many).
I have eaten there about five times on my various trips to Chicago and just visited again this past Easter weekend. The fresh, delicious oysters always stand out in my mind, but I can also remember eating this burratta salad with yellow beets that I still dream about.
Definitely worth a stop if you find yourself in the windy city.