A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see my dear friend, Chanda (pronounced like “panda”) while she was traveling from California to Chicago for business. Since Chicago is only ~90 miles from Milwaukee, we decided that we MUST meet up for dinner. I made the, errr, easy (if not for WI construction and Chicago traffic!) drive to meet her at her hotel. It took me about 2 hours and 20 minutes, but it was worth it to spend an evening with my friend.
From the hotel, we “Uber“ed our way over the restaurant. Let me preface this by saying that we were not in the center of downtown Chicago – not Rush St, or even Michigan Ave. We were in a slightly more remote location - one which our driver even had a difficult time finding. I mean, it was still Chicago, but a little off the beaten path, so to speak. So it was a bit disconcerting as our driver took us through some alley ways and nearly got in an accident. Chanda and I exchanged more than one “what the heck is going on?!?” look!
When we eventually reached The Publican, we entered a huge and beautiful restaurant. Lantern lights hung from the ceiling, and large, interesting prints of pigs hung on the walls.
In the center there were looong tables. The edges showcased very private booths (with doors to close off your table!). Chanda and I were seated at a table near the front of the restaurant – overlooking the now-closed outdoor patio and the street.
We were warmly greeted by our server, Nick, who was a total cross between George Clooney in his “The Facts of Life” days, and Adrian Grenier. Nick also liked to get right down in our faces to explain the menu, the concept and how the evening would go. I won’t lie, there was something mesmerizing about him!
Nick advised us that the menu changes frequently, and is organized from smallest dishes to larger plates (within each category). He advised us to share 3-4 dishes, and to order all at once so he could work the proper timing out with the kitchen.
Chanda was really interested in having the octopus, and I was totally game for that! We also decided to try the charcuterie plate. I asked her if she had any concerns with me turning my “contributions” over to Nick, and she didn’t. Well…she wasn’t exactly keen at the thought of being served blood sausage, but we were willing to take that risk!
When I asked Nick to choose two dishes to compliment the octopus, and surprise us, he was all in! With a confident nod of his head and a big grin, he walked away to place our order.
Meanwhile…the place got PACKED! This was a Tuesday evening, and the restaurant is not small, so we strongly suspected that Chanda had chosen wisely!
We thoroughly enjoyed everything on the (half) charcuterie plate… genoa salumi, pork pie, head cheese, prune-walnut pâté, morteau sausage, pickles, and mustards. The fresh bread that was served alongside the first dish was delicious too!
Note: I apologize for the poor photo quality. I should have adjusted my settings during dinner, but failed to do so. These photos will not do the dishes justice.
Next, we received the octopus and an apple salad (as chosen by Nick – though I admit that the dish had actually caught my eye on the menu). The octopus (from the Sea of Cortez) was grilled to perfection, and served with chickpeas, yogurt, lentils and fried shallots. Amazing flavor!
The Mick Klug Farm (St. Joseph, MI) salad consisted of apples, pickled squash served over a ricotta cheese “sauce” of sorts and topped off with almonds. It had wonderful fall flavors – a very fresh taste! And, it was nice to have a light “vegetable” dish.
Following the octopus and apple dishes, Chanda and I were served the country rib. This is from the Slagel Familly Farm in Fairbury, IL, and dear goodness… Just when we thought the dinner couldn’t be more delicious – it was!
The ribs are simply prepared, with cashews and apple vinaigrette, but the dish packed amazing flavor.
Chanda and I thoroughly enjoyed our meal, and while we were comfortably full, we weren’t overly stuffed. We just felt as though we completely enjoyed each other’s company as well as a phenomenal dining experience.
Chanda even convinced me to have a bite of dessert (I can’t recall the actual description, but it was basically homemade pizelles with caramel chocolate sauce between them, and topped off with powdered sugar). How could we go wrong?
I hated to have to end the evening so quickly, but I did have 90 miles to drive back home – on a “school night”.
I do HIGHLY recommend a trip over to The Publican if you’re in Chicago and are looking for a great meal. And, if you’re fortunate enough to have Nick as your server, feel confident that he knows his stuff and will make great recommendations!
Also, as previously noted, the menu changes frequently, so be prepared to be flexible. The kind staff at The Publican allowed me to take both the dinner and the drink menus (since they’re printed frequently) with me.
If you’ve been to The Publican, I’d love hear about the dishes you tried. Please share you experience!