by Andrew Coppolino
A few years ago, Ryan Murphy and Carly Blasutti set a new standard for sharing plates and culinary adventure when they opened Public Kitchen & Bar on Lancaster Avenue in Kitchener’s quaint Bridgeport neighbourhood. The small restaurant was put together on a shoestring and drew on their imagination and resourcefulness in its eclectic decorating and ambiance. It also relied on Murphy’s considerable talents behind the stoves and that put Public on the map.
Located in a small strip plaza in the solidly middle class area along a busy street, Public was an immediate success, and it was quickly entrenched as a go-to dining spot in the city. The move to a bigger location and a better kitchen last December brought them to even busier Victoria Street in an oddly-coloured plaza in an even more commercial district. But the success has continued. Murphy’s menu changes regularly with something new each week. An attractive feature of what they do is that change and exploring new dishes and new flavours. All of that is helped along by friendly and knowledgeable service.
The dining room seats about 70, which at least doubles the original location. Private rooms and flexible space retain calm and a comfortable atmosphere; majestic and intricately carved wooden doors separate areas when needed and are artwork upon which to gaze when not. The eclecticism remains, but there’s now more space for it: bookcases (with many of Murphy and Blasutti’s favourite cookbooks), large front windows and a right-angled bar give patrons a view, through large glass panes, into the kitchen. There’s more glass in the shape of a new cheese “cave” for affinage; it’s an example of how Murphy wants the business to grow.
“We want to learn all the time, and we’re really happy here,” Murphy says in moment of calm during a busy morning of prep.
Happy makes for good cooking, and eating at Public is about happily wending your way through many dishes and sampling and savouring a variety of aromas, flavours and textures. It’s about rusticity and heart-and-soul coming from the kitchen – a kitchen which Murphy says revels in experiments. ‘We cook what we want to eat,” he says.
On each menu, there are about a dozen “Snacks” such as grilled sourdough and marinated olives or foie gras with blueberry gastrique. Murphy loves the flavours and concoctions of the Iberian peninsula; it’s sort of his home turf of comfort: items like the berenjena fried eggplant or the Basque pimientos rellenos, or bacalhao. He dips into those old cookbooks and respects the past, though he looks ahead striving to see the restaurant to new heights and new insights about what marvellous things can be done with local food. A group of four at table can wander and luxuriate through all of the snacks and several small plates with cocktails to start and a couple of bottles of wine. Savour that rich foie balanced by the tart gastrique. White anchovy in the piquillo y bacalao is a wonderful salty accent. Patates bravas have pimento cheese. There’s morcilla blood sausage. Shrimp is buttery and perfectly textured. Dill pickle chips are well-executed and deliciously fun. A confit of garlic sauce sets off escargot in such a delectable and Spanish fashion.
And yet remember that none of that may be on the menu when you visit, though it will certainly have been replaced with something equally unique and delicious. That’s the fun of Public.