One of Chicago’s most legendary restaurants is The Publican. It has taken me quite some time to finally get around to writing about it for one reason, and one reason only. Getting a table can prove to be very difficult given its fame and popularity. They are usually booked up with reservations for a week in advance, which is usually a huge turn-off for me because I like my food adventures to be unplanned and unscripted. It took an arctic blast of wind and 23ft waves on Lake Michigan to finally get a last minute reservation at 9pm on a freezing, autumn Monday night. The Publican is worth every bit of its hype and reputation.
Located in the historic Fulton Market District, The Publican is surrounded by slaughterhouses and meat markets which only adds to its atmosphere and legend. The interior has a very rustic feel to it with very peculiar spherical lighting fixtures and solid oak tables. The most unusual part about its atmosphere which I didn’t really care for was the horseshoe-shaped community seating encircling most of the dining area. Having four random strangers on each side of you sitting inches away while trying to enjoy some of Chicago’s best food isn’t a very pleasurable experience for me, but the food is worth it and the service is some of the best I have ever received at a restaurant.
Everything at The Publican is either locally sourced or made completely in-house. Being the restaurant portion of a butcher shop, meat is their specialty, and homemade gourmet sausages are one of their most popular dishes. I decided to sample both sausages on their menu for the night, although their menu changes daily. The blood sausage was better than any I had ever had before. Instead of falling apart at the piercing of a fork and being very granular, the filling keeps its shape perfectly. Their blood sausage seemed to emphasize the taste of flesh and blood rather than spices, which is something I can really respect considering blood sausage is a pretty bizarre food.
Another sausage I tried was the boudin sausage, which is commonly used in cajun cooking as more of a flavor additive than anything. Very rarely is boudin sausage made well enough to be eaten on its own. Publican’s boudin sausage was not only the best I have ever had, but was also flavorful enough to be eaten solo. It’s very lightly spiced to accentuate the taste of the meat with a little bit of savory flavor to it.
The smoked arctic char was one of my favorites. Arctic char is a fish I rarely see on the menus of seafood and fine dining restaurants, so I knew I had to have it. The flesh tasted much like a high quality salmon, but better. It had a strong smokiness, not much saltiness to it, and a perfect texture.
Since dining at The Publican does cost an arm and a leg, and most of the plates are small, I decided to get frites with fried egg as a filler. The fries are prepared in the most basic form, which I have never found any this style before I liked. Something about the frites at Publican really knocked my socks off, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. The fries are so simple, but have the perfect amount of salt, texture, crispiness, and freshness to them. The fried egg on top also added a nice yolky dressing to eliminate the need for any dipping sauces.