My Kind of Pub
This past weekend found me in tropical Chicago (it seems I spend a lot of time in the windy city in the winter, when the weather couldn't be nastier), and tops on my list of food places to visit was the new restaurant by Paul Kahan's team: The Publican. For those not familiar with the Windy City's food scene, Paul Kahan is the chef/owner of cutting edge restaurants Avec and Blackbird. The Publican, once again in the West Loop neighborhood, has both similarities and differences with Kahan's other restaurants. It focuses on artisanal beers and even more artisanal foods (especially all things swine), but is in a massive space larger than Avec and Blackbird combined. The Publican has a postmodern beer hall vibe, a spartan barn with hipster servers, minimalist food and the most erudite beer list known to man. And this could pose a problem if everything wasn't handled so well. The beer list could have proven indecipherable, and this from someone who drinks too much artisanal beer, if not for the beer steward who literally camped out at our table to provide recommendations and suggestions. He introduced us to an exceptional Schwarzbier from Monchshof in Germany as well as a Charles Wells Bombardier, a darker ale from the UK. The food at The Publican is prepared with the same "farm to table" focus as Avec, the wonderful Mediterranean influenced small plates restaurant on Randolph St.. The food at The Publican is designed to be shared and is offered with the same "grazing" philosophy as many small plates restaurants (ie. food comes out as it's ready in the kitchen, rather than in courses). As someone who loves this manner of eating (I think it makes for a more relaxed and casual experience) it's perfect, but it's not for everyone so you may not want to take your rigid, old-school Aunt Tess. I would go back simply to have the steamed mussels, which happen to be some of the best I've ever had, and farm-raised chicken over frites, wonderfully simply and hearty. If you find yourself in Chicago soon, wrap that scarf tight and trudge over to 837 W. Fulton Market, the good people at The Publican will certainly offer you respite and more than a few remedies for what "ales" you.