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Publick House: A Traditional Temptation

María Clara Cobo

Before house-made infusions of muddled herbs and huge plates scattered with colorful, high-fiber ingredients became trendy, The Publick House welcomed Bostonians to experience the art of the golden Belgian craft-beer and crispy, greasy, carb-loaded dishes.

In the mid 1800s, Irish pubs started to become popular in the United States, with around 46 percent of all immigrants coming from Ireland. Newcomers, fleeing from the potato famine that took over their country, often visited pubs, which served as places for entertainment in order to cope with their struggles as they settled in a new country. Irish pubs then became centers of community and entertainment, a tradition that has long lived to this day.

When looking for an Irish pub in Boston, the problem is not so much finding one as it is deciding on which one to visit. Our small corner of the country has over one hundred medieval-looking pubs scattered amidst the modern buildings of the city. This precisely why it is extremely important to know how to choose your bar. It might be tempting to step inside the overcrowded pubs that line the streets of Faneuil Hall and the Financial Center. But if you venture on the T through the green line, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you find The Publick House.

The dark oak-bar and the arched windows, make this temple of beer seem like a treasured antiquity, but the Brookline pub has skillfully created an authentic culinary scene, drawing a stream of hungry customers through its black-bordered doors for the past fifteen years.

At the Publick House, beer geeks and football fans alike hustle to find a spot. A wall, stacked with bottles full of different tones of amber liquid, looms over the tightly spaced tables, dimly lit by a faint candle. Laughter and conversations overpower the music. Loud voices swirl to the beat of the waiters’ rushed steps, moving from table to table, making sure to keep the plates and glasses full.  

No matter the time, the Publick House seems to encapsulate the entire city of Boston in one place. I looked around the busy tables. A family wearing BC sports gear passing around a hot skillet whose barbeque infused scent roamed its way around an old couple eating side by side, hunched over their meals as they studied the piles of ingredients stacked inside their burgers. A group of young men collapsing with helpless laughter as they sipped on their heavy glasses of beer, next to a couple who seemed to be struggling to hear what they had to say. Yes, the noise level can be high, but it’s an essential part of the ambience.

Although the restaurant is renown for its craft-beers, you won’t see shots or pitchers here, just as the the vigilant sign perched above the back bar says. Awarded 2010 Best Beer List by Boston Magazine, the Publick House offers nearly 200 different types of beers and ale, the vast majority of them from Belgium and Germany, and as tasty as the food they are served with.

As iron skillets, loaded with a mysterious mixture of food, dripping hot cheese off of their sides, make their way out of the kitchen, it was impossible to choose what to order. The menu is divided by sections, including an entire section dedicated to add-ons. However, the appetizer section is the best reflection of the Publick House’s cuisine. Most dishes are an ode to potatoes and cheese, making everyone surrender to the temptation of breaking the streak with their healthy-eating habits.

The monks frites had my name written all over them, and it was definitely one of our favorites. Hand-cut Yukon potatoes are double-fried until golden brown, served in a traditional Belgian paper cone, dusted with sea salt and come with a choice of two dressings. We ordered the truffle ketchup and the blue cheese dip. Steam rose from the velvet-red ketchup container and cheese oozed from the inside of the blue cheese. I couldn’t resist to combine both flavors, saturating the potatoes in the rich and gooey sauces. The warm mixture was pure ambrosia in my mouth, so delicious that I even dared to double dip the chip.

We followed our server’s recommendation for our next selection from the appetizer section: a short-rib stew on an iron skillet. I was pretty skeptical of this particular dish because by the description, it seemed as if the chef had tossed every single ingredient in the kitchen: oven roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables blended with slow-cooked short rib immersed in sweet barbeque sauce and topped with a fried egg. I was disappointed when I cut through the yolk and the drool worthy goodness of a perfect fried egg didn’t appear. But even though the egg was a bit overcooked, the thin slices of meat were fabulously succulent and tender, melting in my mouth with the crunchy crust of the potatoes.

The harvest salad was the ideal half-time star of the show. A pile of greens laying next to a steaming short-rib skillet and golden fried potatoes, this salad still managed to appeal to our tastes. The combination of the dark and leafy arugula, tossed with fresh apples, dried cranberries, blue cheese and roasted walnuts was a refreshing break from the overwhelmingly heavy start. Still, we could not leave without having a bite of the famous Publick House Burger. Unlike the other dishes, this one allows customers to create their own burger, stacking it up with all of their favorite ingredients. In fact, there is an entire section in the menu devoted to list all the different ingredients you can add to it. There is an ample selection of dressings, including bacon horseradish aioli, and a Wostyntje beer mustard to bring you back to the award-winning beverage that has earned the restaurant its fame. A few extras, such as caramelized onions, grilled Portobello and avocado are also available to decorate your beef patty. Despite all the possible add-ons, I think the burger itself was neglected in the process; the beef didn’t have a lot of personality, as it was missing a touch of seasoning. Nevertheless, when I took my first bite, it exploded with a chin-dripping juice that marked my satisfaction.

Few Irish pubs are packed on a late Saturday afternoon. The Publick House is definitely one of them. It normally comes alive every day from the moment the clock strikes 5 p.m., offering their never-ending selection of craft-beers and their potato-loaded dinner menu. However, weekends are special at the Publick House, since they are open for brunch until 4 p.m. before the dazzling Boston nightlife takes over the casual lunch scene.

The Publick House, 1648 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02445