A sorely needed spot for Southie
So many Boston neighborhoods seem to be changing these days, and perhaps none are changing more than South Boston, with the Seaport District (and yes, it’s part of Southie) looking like its own city these days, Broadway becoming home to some of the hottest restaurants and bars in all of Boston, and the Lower End by the Broadway T stop being remade at such a fast pace that it’s almost scary. Even the lesser-trafficked side streets between Broadway and the Fort Point/Seaport area are being redeveloped here and there, but much of 2nd street and 1st street remain residential and industrial and retain an old-Boston feel while any development is much more low-key, fitting a bit more into the neighborhood.
Few dining spots reflect the laid-back feel of the area, and while Publico tends to cater more toward the upwardly mobile types who have moved in of late, it’s much different than the gaudy waterside spots several blocks to the north or the jam-packed eating and drinking establishments a few blocks to the south. This is a sorely needed place for Southie, at least for those who are more into under-the-radar restaurants that focus more on good food and drink than flash, though “good” may be quite an understatement based on early impressions of the food.
Publico (whose full name is Publico Street Bistro & Garden) has actually been around for awhile, opening in early 2017, but it doesn’t seem to be getting noticed outside of the immediate area, perhaps because of its obscure location near where the old Southie meets the more shiny and new Seaport District.
The dining spot resides on the ground floor of 11 On The Dot, an apartment building that was initially going to be called Allure and that has a somewhat artsy and industrial vibe to it like some of the other new buildings nearby. The artsy, funky feel extends into the restaurant itself, with the dining room featuring wall murals done by local artists (the street art also includes a Salvador Dali mural in the hallway) and a mix of booths and tables, banquettes along the wall, and attractive hanging lights that aren’t overly bright. The lounge to the right of the dining room is just as attractive, with a U-shaped bar that has a number of comfy high-back bar stools, and during the warmer months, the back wall of the bar area opens up to a beautiful atrium with more seating, fire pits, and TVs, and since this area is enclosed on all sides by the building itself, it keeps wind to a minimum unlike your typical outdoor patios and decks that are more exposed to the elements.
The eclectic feel of Publico extends to its menu, as offerings include Central American and South American influences as well as hints of Mediterranean as well, which could probably lead you to use the oft-overused “new American” category to describe the place, but eclectic is probably a more accurate term. Food options include something for everyone, with such items as empanadas, hot dogs with poblano chili, torta carnitas, charred octopus, steamed mussels, bolognese, steak frites, rib eye, and pizzettas being offered.
A few highlights include pillow-soft sourdough buns with olive oil that gets a slight kick from espelette chiles; yucca fries that are so addictive they can quickly ruin an appetite (and the salsa verde that comes with them is heavenly); fried mahi mahi tacos that are overflowing with avocado, peppers, and cabbage, and which come with a simple but delicious side of brown rice and refried beans; a grilled pork chop that sits on a heap of whipped celery root and is topped with a mouthwateringly rich demi-glace; ceviche that gets a serious kick from chili oil and a subtle brininess from tobiko; and for diners who want to splurge a bit with large shareable plates, a seared sea scallop paella with mussels, octopus, chicken, and chorizo, and an Argentinian meat platter that comes with roast pork, andouille sausage, steak, and garlic sausage. (Brunch is available on weekends with everything from avocado toast and beignets to cheeseburger hash and lobster benedict.)
Those looking for a drink or two have a lot from which to choose at Publico, including an array of beers and wines, but considering that one of the owners of the restaurant used to bartend at the iconic (and long-closed) Locke-Ober, it’s pretty tempting to go the cocktail route here. A couple of options are Sweep the Leg (Sagamore rye, Averna amaro, sweet vermouth, thyme) and Get to the Choppah (Aviation gin, blood orange puree, tonic), and you can also order super-sized cocktails for four or more people as well, with one option among the large drinks being a blood orange mule that includes vodka, lime, and ginger beer.
Prices for both food and drink aren’t exactly cheap, but considering the quality of the offerings, the cost really isn’t all that bad, and depending on what you order, you could certainly keep the bill under or right around $100 for two, including a couple of apps, dinner, and a round or two of drinks.
Among all of the “first looks” at restaurants this year, Publico may be the most impressive spot of them all, though Zo in Somerville and Chili Square in Quincy are certainly up there as well. And Publico also seems—for now, anyways—a true hidden gem, being in the middle of a neighborhood and almost totally overlooked, which is a bit of a head-scratcher considering how hot Southie is these days. It may not be little-known for long, however, so if you’re looking for a quiet, out-of-the-way restaurant that isn’t too far from the T and is also fairly close to downtown Boston, you might want to get to this place sooner rather than later.
PUBLICO. 11 DORCHESTER ST., SOUTH BOSTON. PUBLICOBOSTON.COM