South City Publick House has that classic gastropub aesthetic: exposed brick, overhanging air ducts, dim incandescent lighting and an abundance of hardwood. It’s a casual atmosphere, but clearly with refinement in mind.
In addition to seamlessly running as both a bar and restaurant, the Publick House also combines tradition with modernity. The décor and furniture all look brand new, but are meant to remind patrons of simpler times. The walls are decorated with blown-up original postcards from the bygone era of the city of Binghamton’s heyday, combining for a vintage look that feels established but relaxed.
Its Restaurant Week menu includes a three-course lunch for $12 and a three-course dinner for $25. I went for dinner.
For my first course, I ordered the soup of the day, which was a traditional shrimp and crab bisque. The presentation was bare bones — and honestly that’s a good thing. It was simply a bisque in an adequately sized white bowl. The texture was perfect, the flavors of the crab and shrimp played on each other well and the shrimp itself was cooked to perfection. However, it’s a bit salty, so you may want to avoid the oyster crackers that come with it, but otherwise, it was a very solid starter.
However, my main course faltered a bit. I ordered the portobello mushroom with sage and parmesan risotto cakes. In essence, it was risotto shaped into patties and lightly fried, with balsamic-coated mushrooms on top, all of which rested on an arrabiata sauce. The presentation was wonderful here as well — the two patties rested on each other with the mushrooms delicately placed on top; a small arugula salad on the side offered a good color contrast.
The mushrooms were easily my favorite part of the dish. Balsamic vinegar flavor can easily overpower anything cooked in it, but the balance here was superb. The risotto cakes, while cooked well, were a little on the thick side. There wasn’t much seasoning, but that’s what the mushrooms are there for; they’re meant to be eaten together, and it shows.
That being said, the arrabiata sauce was a major misstep. Arrabiata is supposed to be a spicy tomato sauce, and this was just sweet. If I didn’t read the menu later on, I probably would’ve called it an overly-sweet marinara sauce instead of what it was intended to be. It would be only a minor complaint if it was supposed to be marinara, but seeing as it wasn’t, I’d say this sauce is the low point of the entire dinner. A true arrabiata sauce would have been great, but this just wasn’t that.
Dessert was easily the best part of the experience. I ordered the Bailey’s chocolate chip parfait, the title of which does not do this dish justice. It’s a chocolate mousse infused with reduced Bailey’s Irish Cream with a layer of Oreos and topped with a rustic dollop of homemade whipped cream. While the rest of the meal was definitely solid, it wasn’t anything I’ve never tasted before. This, on the other hand, was different. The Bailey’s was prominent, but perfectly balanced with the chocolate. The Oreos broke up what would otherwise be a very boring texture, as well as offering a sweeter counter to the richness of the mousse. On top of that, the whipped cream added a fluffiness to it all that enveloped each bite.
The dinner menu for Restaurant Week definitely shows its combination of old and new through its offerings of traditional pub food and upscale flavor experimentation. In addition to my dinner selections, the spectrum went from strip steak with polenta and fried green beans to soy-braised ribs with Sriracha lime onion rings. This patchwork menu is a result of experimentation; the Publick House likes to try out new chef creations during Restaurant Week to see what sticks and what’s on the chopping block, and it’s a good strategy, even if not everything lands on its feet.
Would I say I enjoyed my dinner? Yes. Would I say it’s worth $25? I’m not sure.
For all the meal’s merits, the entree should have been the centerpiece, and it was the only course that had a glaring mistake. Granted, it was still edible, but it cheapened the quality of everything else on the plate. All in all, South City Publick House’s atmosphere is great, the service is fantastic and at the end of everything, the food is still pretty good — and just that.