The first time I visit PUBlic 74 is several months ago with friends, before my second, a media dinner showcasing some new menu items this week. Even though PUBlic 74 is right off the freeway, the GPS is a little confused the first time around taking us on a wild goose chase. This time, I’m smarter, knowing exactly where I’m going and even driving to the upper level parking for easy access into the restaurant.
The gastropub is not easy to see, hiding on the second floor of a weird coral-hued building. Once inside though, the restaurant encompasses a rustic interior with wood throughout, a space that is both welcoming and comfortable.
The first thing you’ll notice is the impressive libation menu including craft cocktails and beers on tap which rotate frequently. Definitely order a craft cocktail or two. I enjoy Public Defender a refreshing gin composition with cucumber, lemon and St Germain; Grandma Out In Public is vodka paired with ginger beer and leaves a refreshing carbonated finish on my tongue; Public Speaker a spicy tequila concoction with charred pineapple and cilantro; and Public Preacher, a peach-infused bourbon drink possessing hints of shiso and chipotle — I am especially enamored by the latter two, and they’re dangerously easy to drink.
The menu sees a big change from my last visit a few months ago. About 90% of the previous menu is gone, but I see Smoken SoCal Wings ($12), tender and meaty chicken wings finished in the oven – not fried – and definitely finger-licking good.
Public Fries ($7) also remain on the menu, and this is a must. We choose thyme blue – with thyme and blue cheese, but this option has been replaced by three ones of pink pepper and herb, sweetly spicy or cilantro poblano. It is a heaping portion, not meant for one person. They are tasty, especially while sipping on cold beers or cocktails.
Another item, Smokin Reuben ($15), we try on my first visit is on the menu. I remember its thick cut slices — reminiscent of Katz Deli in New York City — sitting in a generous pile between grilled toasted rye bread with 2K dressing, the restaurant’s version of Russian dressing. Sauerkraut and emmenthaler Swiss cheese complete this over-the-top concoction.
On the second try, the meat is not as robust and savory as the first, but even so, it is still one of the best corned beef sandwiches you’ll find in Orange County!
Besides these dishes, all of the items I try on the second visit are new. Standouts include: Callin Flower ($7) is a delicious vegetarian item of roasted cauliflower drizzled with chimichurri – although it resembles a basil, parsley, and mint pesto rather than chimichurri. The grilled lemon wedge is a lovely touch, allowing us to add acid to an already stellar dish.
Macc’N Frenchy ($14) is perhaps one of the best mac n cheeses I’ve encountered in a long time. Elbow macaroni is baked with gouda cheese, caramelized shallots and topped with herbed panko. It is the perfect texture, not too cloying, yet not watery in the least bit. Mac n cheese is not typically a dish I prefer, and when I proclaim it “really delicious” my friends know that’s a pretty solid statement coming from me.
I’m also not a huge burger fan, and am super picky when it comes to eating one. Kobe Goes Animal ($17) is a char-grilled 10oz American Kobe beef patty sandwiched between a brioche bun with caramelized onions, smoked cheddar, fresh tomatoes and greens. The meat to bun ratio is good – a pet peeve of mine when not – and the patty is at a perfect medium rare. Want a really, REALLY good burger? This is it!
The menu at PUBlic 74 is hearty fare, and another welcoming addition to South County, where the number of solid restaurants are few and far between. There is ample parking after 6.30pm which is another positive aspect when dining out!
27211 Ortega Hwy
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675