The Publican focuses on pork, beer

CHICAGO If it means great food, a lively atmosphere and a tough reservation, then a new spot in West Town fits the bill.

For more than two years, the folks behind Blackbird and Avec have been talking about their beer-and-pork centric project on West Fulton Market. It finally opened a few weeks ago to near-universal acclaim from the local food press. And for those of you who long for a world-class beer to go with some tasty nibbles from across the country, say hello to The Publican.

What do you get when you cross the food-obsessed owners from Blackbird and Avec with a passion for great beer? An American beer hall the likes of which you've never seen, at The Publican, which occupies a dark corner in West Town.

"It's kind of bold flavors, a lot of acid, heavily seasoned, and really trying to source out the best ingredients we can," said Brian Huston, The Publican.

Along with chef-owner Paul Kahan, they go to great lengths to source the best ingredients: mussels from Maine steamed in Belgian white ale, oysters from the coasts shucked to order and Japanese red snapper laced with thin radishes and orange segments. But don't get the wrong impression. While the seafood is impressive, the mantra here is pork. Most of which comes from a single, downstate farmer. Waste is non-existent. They use the whole hog.

"Shoulders for sausage, the belly for bacon, the ribs can go into a poti, which is like a boiled pork dish, the legs - the back legs - for hams," said Huston.

Tripe and blood sausage might show up in a blistered gratin, coated in breadcrumbs, while a ham "chop" roasted in hay is sliced off of the bone, then placed over French lentils and topped with vibrant local greens. Pork skins are fried to a crisp, impossibly light, salty and addictive, a perfect snack with a great Belgian beer. Even the marinated and grilled chicken - served over a bed of homemade frites - has to have a requisite side of a few slices of sausage. On occasion, if the mood suits them, they'll whip up English-inspired meat pies, jammed with beef and pork, served with a bit of mustard.

You can guess all of this protein makes a perfect foil for the intensely European beer list.

"We don't limit it to where it's from, who's making it, although we do have specific beers for specific reasons, in that maybe they're the archetype of the style," said Michael McAvena, The Publican.

With so much emphasis on the food, the beer plays a supporting, yet essential, role.

"Not so much saying, 'This is gonna be a really great pork beer, this is going to be a really great fish or seafood beer.' It's more, these beers are more food-friendly," said McAvena.

On Sundays, there is no menu, just a pre-set, three-course, family-style feast for $45. One caveat: as the night gets later, the noise level rises considerably, so don't expect a quiet booth in the back, ever.

The Publican
837 W. Fulton Market

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