I don’t really have a good reason for reviewing PUBLIC Eat+Drink in North Adams, Massachusetts. It’s not especially exotic or unusual, as far as the food it serves. Said food is excellent, but not uncommon in its variety or type. It’s not a hidden gem. It’s really not off the beaten path in any way. There’s nothing happening there that’s inventive or pretentious enough to be featured on Chef’s Table or any similar feature.
Simply put: I’m reviewing this because I ate there, and I had a really good time.
We arrived a little before four o’clock, which meant that we got the lunch menu, but the server assured us we could order off the dinner menu if we wanted to, and that the two menus were very similar anyway. The restaurant had the slightly hipster-y look of a bistro and bar, with white tablecloths and an individual glass carafe of water for each table. Still, the staff was personable and after the day I’d had – unrelated disability access issues at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASSMoCa) – even the aspects of class privilege conferred by the accoutrements and menu felt luxurious and soothing.
We started by splitting a Public salad, which was helpfully served on two smaller plates for us. This ranked as one of the best salads I’ve ever had, second only to one I had in a restaurant in New Hampshire once, which was literally nothing but goat cheese, craisins, and shaved Granny Smith apple pieces. The Public salad consists of mixed greens, goat cheese, toasted almonds, more craisins, and honey cider dressing, which I personally think the restaurant could sell by the bottle from their bar or website at a small profit. Clearly, I’m a huge mark for any salad involving cheese and dried fruit, but even so, this was really delicious. The sweet notes mixed with the goat cheese to create a rich loaded-cream-cheese flavor far more decadent than any salad should be.
My mother (the person I go out to dinner with most often because I am broke and she is not) got the crispy shrimp tacos as her main course. This was perhaps the dish with the greatest amount of issues, although even that is somewhat nitpicky of me. The tacos contained panko breaded shrimp, shaved red cabbage, and creamy sweet chili with cilantro and lime. I would assume the chili, cilantro, and lime were in the aioli-looking sauce that was drizzled over the tacos. The primary flavor was not sweetness or heat, but faint sourness, which was heightened by the taste of the cabbage, of which there was a little too much. The shrimp did not need their breading; the same flavors could have been created with a marinade or thinner sauce, and the result would have been a lighter and more flavorful taco.
I got the brie burger, because I’ve always had a (possibly sick) curiosity about what brie would taste like on a burger or in a grilled sandwich context. The brie burger comes with brie, arugula, and garlic aioli, with fries on the side. Looking back, I wonder if I should have asked for a tomato slice or two on the side of the plate to add to it. I can’t tell if it was the lack of color, or the lack of subtlety in my own palate, but the burger, while delicious, did need something sweet and/or acidic – some pop of fresh flavor beyond the arugula and garlic to offset it. Still, it was nice and creamy, cooked very well as I recall (I’m always happy when people understand that “medium rare” means it shouldn’t be charred on the outside, no matter how juicy you managed to keep it). The fries seemed hand-cut and were extremely well-seasoned, with just the right amount of crispiness.
We also split a dessert, the lemon curd tart with mixed berry sauce and meringue. The tart was delicious, and it was my first time trying lemon curd. I thought the little spoonful of mixed berry sauce we got dabbed artistically across the plate was not quite enough for the whole tart, and a more generous helping of that would have been wonderful. The meringue was served in tiny, well-done wafer-meringues set over and around the tart, and although lemon and meringue is a classic combination I usually love, this time the meringue felt unnecessary and overly sugary. A little unsweetened, freshly-whipped cream might have done better to offset the brightness of the fruit flavors.
PUBLIC Eat+Drink in North Adams is a good restaurant. It’s surprisingly not overpriced for what it is, and the food is generally delicious. Where it occasionally flops is when it tries to be just a little too clever, or add just a little too much to an already-perfect dish. These are menu issues that can easily be tweaked, and if you have the funds and are in the area, I encourage you to visit and formulate your own opinion.