Wichita has plenty of bar food.
But when high school buddies Drew Thompson and Travis Russell teamed up this fall to open Public at the Brickyard in a cavernous but very cool underground space attached to the Brickyard bar, 129 N. Rock Island, Wichita got its first trendy gastropub.
The gastropub concept is popular in bigger cities and offers a bar stocked with craft beers and a menu filled with traditional bar-friendly sandwiches, burgers and comfort food entrees made with a more gourmet approach. Public’s owners are embracing another food trend: eating local. Whenever possible, they’re using ingredients grown and produced locally, including Delano Bakery, La Tradicion tortilleria and Yoder Meats.
Public at the Brickyard has a cool vibe. The dining room glows with warm light and tasteful, vintage decor. The food is pretty good, too, though in many cases, its concept is better than its execution.
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ON THE MENU The small-ish menu includes several creative appetizers, a few salads, four pizzas, some sandwiches, a plate of ribs and an order of sliders.
DON’T-MISS DISHES We were able to take a pretty thorough tour of the menu at Public, and were careful to try the dishes that have been most often raved about of recent on social media: the brisket tacos, the Cuban sandwich and the sliders.
Of the three, the tacos ($9) were the best. They were made with a shredded brisket that was slow-simmered with peppers and onions and mixed with a sweet barbecue sauce. The two tacos were topped with shredded cheese and fresh cilantro and served with a side of salsa and black beans and rice. It was a good plate, and the use of the locally made La Tradicion corn tortillas made a difference.
The Cuban sandwich ($9 with a side of fries) was OK but wasn’t among the best interpretations of a Cuban offered locally. It was served on a giant ciabatta roll and filled with pork tenderloin, melted Swiss cheese and salami with a chipotle aioli and house-made sweet pickles. The bread on the sandwich overwhelmed the otherwise good fillings, though, and we couldn’t taste the aioli or the pickles – which is probably OK because even a loosely interpreted Cuban should have dill pickles, not sweet.
But those sweet pickles are otherwise amazing. My favorite thing at Public was an appetizer called Public Pickles ($9). Served on a cutting board, it included slices of toasted bread, salami, a horseradish-flavored cheese and a mason jar filled with skinny slices of homemade sweet pickles and the onions that were pickled along with them. An assembly of all the ingredients resulted in a simple snack that was full of flavor.
We were disappointed with the prairie sliders ($9), a serving of two mini-burgers that the menu promised were made with crushed espresso-seasoned patties, extra-sharp cheddar, onion marmalade and mustard aioli. We didn’t taste espresso or onion marmalade, and the beef was pretty dry.
The rib plate, available only at dinner, was $10 for a half rack, and although the sauce was nice and smoky, the ribs themselves were tough, and it was difficult to gnaw significant bites of meat from the bones.
We liked the smoked chicken pizza ($13), a generous pie made on thick, rosemary-flavored dough. It was topped with corn, red onions and yellow and red sliced cherry tomatoes, and the kids in our party loved the grilled cheese sandwich, which came with a side of tasty tomato bisque for $8. The fresh fruit cup, which we ordered on the side of our Cuban, was impressive and beautiful, filled with plump fresh raspberries plus slices of strawberry, apple, orange and banana. And the fresh-cut fries were so crispy and right that we ordered a second side to munch on.
AMBIANCE The dining room at Public is spacious and inviting. It has tables and chairs here, couch and coffee table clusters there, and a beautiful bar that highlights the craft beers on tap. The decorations are vintage mantles, toys and knick-knacks perfectly placed around the space, and the lighting is dim and warm.
PRICE RANGE Prices are a little higher than you’d expect. The appetizers are $6 to $9. Pizzas are $11 to $13. Sandwiches and entrees are mostly $9.
SERVICE Good. Our server was nice and patiently accommodated all of our little requests.