As soon as my class at Siebel was confirmed, I dove into books and poured through various online resources for at least one beer geek foodie gastropub destination that I absolutely must visit while in Chicago. I came to the quick conclusion that The Publican was my premier destination of choice come hell, high water, or all the above.
I made the trip to Chicago safe and sound, despite the L-Line's best efforts otherwise. It was a lazy Wednesday afternoon with mild humidity and a gentle breeze amidst friendly temperatures lingering in the mid-70s. After taking the edge off my travel stress, I hailed the first of many taxis and pointed him toward destiny: The Publican.
After a short drive, I arrived in one piece at The Publican despite Chicago traffic's best efforts otherwise. (I sense a pattern here...) It was somewhen in the afternoon between 4pm and 5pm, long past beer-thirty in my world. I was thirsty. I was hungry. I was craving an epic gastropub undertaking of dazzling proportions. I was not disappointed.
An added bonus to hitting up a hot gastropub during the middle of the week in the middle of the day is that you pretty much have the run of the whole place which is just the way I like it. Bustling social energy and night-life has its own merits, but not usually when one is by their lonesome. Not to mention I was feeling lazy and laid-back with any desires for mass-socializing nowhere in sight.
To my expected delight, I had their small bar pretty much to myself. After the cheerful hostess led me to my seat at said bar, their head bartender and beer geek incognito (whom I believe is Cicerone certified) welcomed me with genuine cheer and personable interest. Did his 6th sense reveal my beer geekatude? Or was it the gleam in my eye and the shameless drool trickling down the side of my mouth?
I also doubt I was the first nor would I be the last beer geek to sit at his bar of liquid pleasure. But at that moment and for the entirety of my stay, the bartender, his assistant, and my waitress made me feel not like a guest but like a treasured family member who has stopped by for a short visit.
I don't know which was more impressive, the beer menu or the food menu. Either way, it was immediately apparent that both were taken very seriously at The Publican. As much as I love really great food, I love really great beer even more. With that in mind, I studied the beer menu first, and it wasn't long before my destined choice rang loud and clear. After all, who is going to argue with the 10 Commandments? Certainly not I, and The Lost Abbey knows their brewy mettle. With nary a second thought, my beery fate was signed, sealed, and delivered.
With my chosen beer resting comfortably in her classy Lost Abbey chalice, I set about looking for the perfect morsel to accompany my perfect beer. Some may argue the validity of perfection, but let me propose this: while perfection is always in the mind of the beholder, beholden, and the moment, all three had converged upon my person at that specific moment of my life to be perfection.
Like a beacon of salvation atop a lighthouse nestled in the windswept craggy shores of time, she called to me, the irresistible siren's song of smoked trout topped with apples, sunchokes, escarole, and fromage blanc atop a grilled french baguette slice. No questions need be asked for the answer has already spoken.
The beer? ~ Beautiful.
The food? ~ Inspirational.
Together? ~ The earth trembled, the heavens rejoiced, and the universe shone just a little bit brighter.
Ensuing moans of pleasure and shivers of delight betrayed my enjoyment to all, not that I cared. The Publican staff fully understood. After all, what better thrill for a beer geek foodie extraordinaire than to share her delight with those of similar passions. The service was impeccable, the beer lovingly doted upon, and the food exemplified the timeless adage: Less is more. Quality over quantity.
Price wise, the beers on draft were surprisingly reasonable while the bottles were a mix of expected and expensive. But, I don't delusion myself with retail expectations when savoring my delights in the restaurant world. It's all a matter of balance. To those who live by fast food, frozen dinners, and early bird specials, The Publican experience will either inspire revolutionary restaurant enlightenment or instigate befuddled aggravation and bitter disappointment. Personally, I enjoy my culinary and beery pleasures slow and savory.
Come early evening, we parted ways not because I wanted to or should have, but because I got caught up in the hurried rush of trying to experience too much too fast too soon. Let's just say I learned my lesson for future exploratory jaunts.
I visited The Publican the next night for more beer and food delights which turned out to be an ill-timed venture. Thursday nights are apparently raucous with laughter, merriment, bustling patrons, and twice-bustling staff. Bursting at the seams comes to mind. My only mistake was going there alone, that's all. Raucous festivities aside, I indulged in a De Ranke XX Bitter and one of the most amazing meals of my life. Period. Each bite of my blue-fin tuna crudo sliced just right and topped with whole pistachios and a zippy marinade of lemon and mint with freshly shredded mint leaves sprinkled on top was an orchestra of flavors, textures, and aromas that would have impressed even Beethoven. Over a month later, I can taste each vivid bite as if I was still there.
In hindsight, probably not the best beer to pair with my meal, a Saison would have been better, but it didn't hinder my enjoyment any.
Overall, The Publican was every bit the beer geek foodie gastropub experience that I imagined, nay she exceeded even those vaunted expectations. The highlight of my brief trip, The Publican will once more be my first destination when I visit Chicago next year. Everything was perfect: food, beer, service, atmosphere...
Find out for yourself when next you're in Chicago. Tell them Kristyn sent you.
(an original written work by Kristyn Lier. plagiarism is not tolerated)