The gastropub is a hot item in both London and New York, where places like The Dutch (New York Times critic Sam Sifton’s Best New Restaurant of 2011) and April Bloomfield’s The Spotted Pig reign supreme. In those places, items the likes of chicken livers on toast and Devils on Horseback (blue-cheese stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates) are downed along with designer ales and boutique wines.
Public House, Block 16 Hospitality’s new entry at the Venetian, is our first bona fide and best example of the London-inspired genre. Owner Billy Richardson, who counts Holsteins and the Barrymore among his short list of respectable efforts, has hit one out of the park with this concept. Chef Anthony Meidenbauer has created an impressive menu of snacks, savories and large plates to go along with the pub’s more than 200 brews and imaginative wine list.
The buildout is impressive, too. The space formerly home to David Burke’s restaurant looks far more spacious than its predecessor, with a ceiling composed of giant wooden cubes, banquettes of tufted, dark brown leather and a burnished mahogany parquet floor. And tables have handsome cherry wood surfaces. It’s defiantly masculine in here, yet alluring for women. I actually heard one say, “It reminds me of that cologne, English Leather.” Hey, is that stuff even still on the market?
The fellow with the Salvador Dali mustache is official Public House cicerone (beer sommelier) Russell Gardner. He’ll turn you on to one of the two-dozen brews he has on tap. He started my table off with Blond Chimay from Belgium, but we balked at the idea of a gluten-free beer.
Bar snacks are located smack in the middle of the menu, above the section called Butcher Block, Meidenbauer’s house-made charcuterie.
Welsh Rarebit and the House Pickles are two items not to miss. The former is more of an eccentric cheese toast with a bite, but delicious. The latter might just be the sharpest pickles I can remember, outside of torshi, the pickled vegetables you get in Persian restaurants.
We chose country paté from the Butcher Block, tasty slabs of pork paté that reminded me a little too much of luncheon meat. After that slight misstep, it was straight up, all the way.
If you take my advice, you’ll head straight to the poutine, the French-Canadian dish composed of French fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy. In Quebec, trendy chefs have taken to topping this monstrosity with foie gras. Meidenbauer has added duck confit, a capital idea.
But what makes the dish soar are the crisp, shoestring potatoes, crusty fried cheese curds, and the surprise of a wonderful demi-glace in place of pasty gravy. It’s the best poutine I’ve ever tasted, although it would taste even better at 2 a.m. after a hockey game.
Potted farm egg comes in a casserole with lots of cheese sauce and a heap of sautéed mushrooms, the perfect complement to wedges of the crusty house-bread accompaniment.
We only tasted two large plates, a tricked-up fried quail served on two waffles with bacon-braised quail and a maple glaze (a little joke about chicken and waffles), and amazing lamb pierogi, an homage to the chef’s roots in heavily Polish western New York state.
For dessert, don’t miss the sticky toffee pudding and the outrageously rich chocolate stout layer cake. I didn’t try these Devils on Horseback, because it’s not a dish I fancy, but I hear they stand up to the best.
Yep, the gastropub may just be here to stay.