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Jun 10, 2007 07:49 AM

Publick House, Brookline, 6/9/7

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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  1. Thanks for the thorough review, Public House has been one of my favorite spots in the city for a few years. Early on weeknights is less crowded but it still fills up fast, and I often see people waiting for it to open at 5 pm.

    Pretty sure Monk's Cafe's house brand Flemish sour is also available in bottles at better beer retailers (Wine Gallery, Bauer, Downtown Liquors).

    1 Reply
    1. re: PaulB

      Yes, enjoy the Publick House in the summer, when it's not clogged with throngs of clueless BC undergrads ordering Red Stripe.

    2. You must have been in line while we were sitting at the big table. The calamari actually aren't so bad, they just serve a lot of them. The other plate you referred to must have been the two-top next to us - maybe they liked them less.

      I've actually yet to eat "real" food at TPH, since we're mostly there for the beer. We also had an order of frites, which were good (but it was kind of a small serving for $6). The garlic mayo and beer mustard are pretty tasty.

      Was there a hostess last night? I heard that they hired a hostess since the Monk's Cell expansion opened up. If there's a hostess, why is there still a line? Maybe someone who's more familiar can clarify.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nfo

        The Publick House now has a hostess every night and there is no longer a line... they'll take your cell number and call you when your table is ready. The line no longer exists!

      2. Great review. I had that seafood waterzooi several months ago and I agree that it's really great, I think the Belgian selections on the menu are generally better than the rest (I also want to try the cheese plate at some point).

        The Pulick House is always really busy after about 6pm Friday-Sunday in my experience, they used to be open for beer from 12 on Saturday and Sunday and this was a nice quiet time but I've found that they now open at 4 (I think this is a mistake). Weekdays are quieter throughout the year, I usually go early to generally avoid the crowd. What the Publick House really needs is a beer garden.

        I also agree about Monk's Cafe, I can't decide if I like it better than the Publick House. There are a couple of other good beer spots in Philly: Nodding Head is a second floor microbrewery in Center City with a good raw bar business below, Eulogy by the corner of Chestnut and 2nd is also really good.

        2 Replies
        1. re: steinpilz

          The weekend noon opening is great, the place is very mellow and they have lunch and a brunch buffet in addition to the usual line up of beers. They stop it for the summer, for staffing reasons I'm told, and I miss it terribly. It is my favorite time to be there, and is one of the few reasons that I look forward to Labor Day.

          The latest I heard on the hostess was "maybe eventually" but they are in no hurry at all to implement it. I'd go more often if they did, but the lines on the weekend suggest that they aren't hurting for my patronage.

          1. re: steinpilz

            Monk's has a really handy beer bible, which breaks down beers by country and genre with some quite useful tasting notes. My wife found it interesting enough to actually purchase a copy of same.

            nfo, your description about the calamari does fit with what I remember seeing when I was in line, so most likely we were in the same space at the same time. It's good also to know that I wasn't hallucinating about the puzzlingly small frites. I think my personal preference is for something a little smaller than the macro wedges that came with the fish & chips and the Cuban and a little bigger than the tiny strips (going back to Philly, the fries I had with my burger at Rouge would be a damn fine place to start).

          2. The fries served with sandwiches and entrees are really much closer to belgian frites (except for the skins) than the greasy "micro" frites they serve with the mussels. I guess they must fit the micro portion theme - why bother serving a 10 micro frites with the mussels? - what a waste of time. They should give you a decent size order with frites when you order mussels, or make you pay for them extra - and give you a choice of small (not the current small) or large order and be able to choose from real frites or the micros.


            And I really don't understand the seating policy.

            1. Just a quick FYI - Monk's Cafe Flemish Red/Sour is not a house brand of Monk's Cafe in Philadelphia - it is a from a Belgian brewery -

              Also, the andouille sausage sandwich is a menu item that never really disappoints - excellent sausage with grainy mustard.

              Deep Ellum in Allston's Union Square is very laid back on weekday nights, no loud music, no crowds typically. Tap list is slightly smaller, less focus on Belgians and more so on American microbrews. Food can be hit or miss as well but the staff are good knowledge people. They also have a full bar and do specialize in mixology.

              2 Replies
              1. re: avial

                I love both of these and agree that Deep Ellum is a wonderful alternative. I can't speak for the food at either pub because I can't eat gluten (which is a main component of beer). Both have decent hard ciders handy and have great, chill vibes. I generally get better service at Deep Ellum, but Publick House is just a block away!

                1. re: avial

                  I find Sunset to be far superior in every aspect compared to Deep Ellum if in that area.