I realize the Publick House has been around for a while, and written about at some length in this group in the past, but somehow I'd managed to never get there before. Went with a few friends last night and thought I'd report back on the latest state of affairs.
Brief background: my wife and I took a trip to Philadelphia for a conference last week. While we were staying in Center City, we came across a pub called Monk's Cafe. I had never drunk Belgian beer in quantity, and the experience was eye-opening. The Belgians seem to be to beer making what the Lyonnaise and Bolognese and Ottoman-style Turks and Sichuanese are to cooking -- the ones who obsess over every last detail, fuss much more than any sane person would to create product with an unrivaled depth of flavor and complexity. That, and the experience of dealing with barkeeps and waitstaff who actually knew and cared about their beer was also fairly novel to me. A bit of poking around turned up the Publick House, so we rounded up a small group to investigate.
First the beer, which is outstanding. I wound up having four different drafts and loving all of them, from the caramel complexity of the McChouffe (Belgian brown) to the balanced hoppiness of the De Ranke XX Bitter (Cat. Special, manages to be hoppy without hitting you on the back of the head with a hops two-by-four the way so many IPAs tend to), the La Chouffe (Belgian pale, maybe a bit too hoppy for my taste but still much more subtle than I expected) and the Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout (wonderful chocolate nose and complex deep creaminess). I also noted with some amazement that Monk's Cafe's house brand Flemish sour is also available as a draft at the Publick House (wonder how that happened). Our waiter was expert in his descriptions and very good at steering us to new stuff we hadn't tried before which was similar to old stuff that we really liked. I look forward to exploring more of their collection.
Next the food. I was warned that some of the more standard pub-grub type stuff was not always the greatest, and while we were standing in line, I saw two plates of calamari get pushed away only half eaten, which I took as a bad sign. But we were all pretty happy with what we had: we split a pot of moules frites (pot#2 with La Rulles Triple, tomato, spinach, asiago, garlic bread crumbs). The topping was actually quite lovely to suck off the mussel shells and the mussels themselves were done to perfection with no dead or spoiled or unopened shells in the pot. The fries were also quite good, principal problem was that there weren't enough of them! The liquor at the bottom was a bit of a disappointment -- not sure why, but in the sop, it came out a bit sour.
My wife had the fish & chips, which are admittedly standard issue pub grub, but she was impressed that they had a tasty, crispy, delicate shell (and we've had nasty, bready, oily F&C at other places in town) and tender, flaky whitefish with very generous portions (she packed half of the stuff to take home). A friend had the Cuban sandwich which she said was very good (I didn't sneak a bite myself). Both oddly enough came with wedge-cut potato type french fries rather than the Belgian frites. Still very good, though I think we would have preferred the latter.
Another friend had the roast duck, which came out with beautiful flavor and texture and was accompanied by a lovely Belgian mashed potato concoction called stoemp (texture and flavor sort of reminded me of potatoes dauphinoise though maybe not as cheesy as the Parisian relative) and a tasty sauce that (maybe?) hinted of hoisin. I had the waterzooi aux poissons (Belgian fish stew), which is something I'd definitely go back for again -- tender perfectly cooked chunks of fish, ideally cooked yukon gold potatoes, more of those lovely mussels and a dill and tomato broth which I sopped up all of with the toasted bread provided with the meal.
I was hoping that on a Saturday night after all the colleges had graduated and on a night that the Red Sox were playing later that it wouldn't be hideously busy. Because of the on-and-off rain they weren't using the outside tables, and the wait for a table at 6 pm was about 40 minutes (we waited an hour, in part because they won't seat until the entire party shows up). The handling of the table wait line was puzzling at best -- they made you stand in the line and wait, rather than take down names (in Philly they also took down a cell phone number and called us instead of using one of those chintzy pagers) and letting up pony up to the bar (would've sold a lot more beer that way). Anybody know if the place is less hectic on a weeknight?
I do think I'll have to be back, though, hectic lines notwithstanding. Early. And often.
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