Entering the Publik domain

We were hungry when we went to this U.S.S.R.-themed pub, Soviet

When I first spotted The Publik being set up in the shell of the former Joey
Tomato’s off Calgary Trail, I couldn’t help but laugh.
There’s something about the quasi-trend of Soviet chic that seems a
little exploitative and pretentious—especially when it’s applied
to a bar-slash-restaurant. After all, the Soviet Union was a totalitarian
state that just happened to have a flair for design, not some kingdom of
magical gourmands. Still, curiosity got the better of me and when the Publik
opened I ventured in with a companion for a quick drink, snack and sneer. We
even joked about bringing some Marxist-Leninist pamphlets to hand out to the
waitstaff. We ended up sitting down for an order of “little
devils.” They’re basically just fancy Chicken McNuggets, but
these tasty little jalapeño breaded dynamos were accompanied by a nice
chipotle sauce that left us with the impression that the food at this pub
might be better than what your average proletariat would get at their local
hangout. It was with this experience on my mind that I returned to the
red-roofed building with my fellow cuisinaut and declared war on the food
front to see how a return visit would stack up against our first pleasant
experience. Despite the stylistic pretensions of the name, the Publik is
anything but a bauhausian “restaurant of the people.” While it
isn’t Central Committee fine, it’s certainly aimed at a crowd
with a little more disposable income and a hankering for a lounge with a very
definite sense of style. Any traces of Sovietness seems to end with the logo,
the use of the colour red and the desire, wherever possible, to replace the
letter “c” with the letter “k.” After all, the Soviet
Union didn’t have all those flat-screen TVs. With its central drink
serving island and darker lighting, it feels like a lounge, but maintains a
nice, open feel thanks to the vaulted ceiling. Drinks were the first matter
to attend to, and when our waitress appeared I went with a simple pint while
my companion filled her decadent bourgeois girly drink desires with a
Typhoon—an apple-centred tropical drink that was pleasantly sweet. From
there, we turned to studying “Publik Consumption” via our menu.
The Publik’s real Achilles heel is the size of its menu, which
sacrifices variety in favour of a smaller menu of contemporary food that
maintains a balance between Asian fusion snacks and the sort of upscale pub
food that could likely be found next door at Earl’s. The selections are
appetizer-heavy with the closest thing to an entrée being the
selection of sandwiches, flatbreads and fajitas—and there were only
about six different ones to choose from. The advertised special of the night
was mussels for $12. A quick perusal of the menu, however, revealed that the
mussels were regularly $12. Not very special, now was it? While we were
tempted by the Tagarashi Tuna—“Japanese chili encrusted albacore
tuna served with Asian mango relish,” according to the menu—and
the Wok-Seared Calamari, we decided to go with the Three Little Kahunas
($6.50) and the Ponzu Won Tons ($8.50). From their unfortunately small
selection of sandwiches and flatbreads, I chose the BBQ pulled pork sandwich
($10), complete with a grainy mustard coleslaw, while my dining companion
went with the less adventurous BBQ chicken clubhouse ($10). After a short
wait, the starters arrived. The Kahunas were three tiny burgers—cute,
easy to hold in your hand and absolutely tasty bar food. A lightly toasted
bun, what tasted like a spread of chipotle mayo and a tiny pickle slice made
these a great opener. The Ponzu was a little disappointing, as they had
become almost too soggy from sitting in their cilantro-heavy soy-citrus
sauce, but my companion enjoyed the little noodle-wrapped chicken chunks.
When the “main course” finally arrived, we dug in to our
individual sandwiches. While the pulled pork didn’t magically transport
me to flavour country—i.e., the southern U.S.—its combination of
asymmetric flavours and textures didn’t disappoint. Pulled pork
isn’t common in Edmonton and this sandwich had what I loved most about
this heart-clogging meat, bread and slaw combo. The pork wasn’t chewy,
but was drenched in a quaintly spicy BBQ sauce that contrasted nicely with
the mustardy crunch of the slaw. Of course, it was also a sloppy mess and
part of it had to be eaten with a fork after it fell out of the sandwich and
onto the plate. As for the quality of the clubhouse, my unfortunately
less-than-verbose companion commented that it was “sufficiently
bacony,” with plentiful chicken that was “nice and tangy”
and a spread of roasted garlic mayo that was “a nice touch.” By
the time the waitress came around to offer us a dessert from their—you
guessed it—sadly small dessert menu, my companion and I were still
bloated from the meal. We passed on the “big cookie” and other
treats and instead chose to pay the bill which rounded out at just under $60
before a tip. A bit much for what felt more like a lot of snack food than a
meal. While I’d be willing to return to the Publik for a snack,
I’d be a little worried about running through the small selection of
food too quickly. Of all of the things to have copied from the Soviets,
why’d one of them have to be a lack of selection? V The Publik 4208
Calgary Trail South • 485-1749

Leave a Comment