It isn't every day I get to have lunch with Patch's busy editor, Heather Collura.
While I typically eat out once a week to write this column, I hate to bother Heather to join me because I know she rarely has time to eat. So, I was thrilled when she said, "Let's have lunch at in Mountainside, you're going to really like it." I'm really quite agreeable to try just about anything, but this is an Irish pub with a countdown to St. Patty's Day (minus 80 days!) on the website which is all well and good. But the day we went, it was a humid 95 degrees and the last thing I felt like eating was shepard's pie or Guinness braised corned beef.
Regardless, over Route 22 we went to a little strip mall on Mountain Avenue in Mountainside. The interior was handsome, more of a clubby restaurant than a pub. The mahogany bar stretched from one end to the other and seemed like it would be hopping at night with patrons having a cocktail before or after the movies as well as those waiting for a table. A quick peruse of the menu and I knew right away this was no Irish Pub. The lunch menu in three sections, Appetizers, Lunch and Irish Fare was a bit confusing, so I asked Chef, Bradley Rodriguez to explain:
"I've been the chef here for 2 and a half years after working all over and I've developed a more contemporary menu which is the direction we're going in rather than a classic pub. In fact, in a few weeks we're changing the name to Publick House."
Chef Rodriguez also said they will be reclassifying the Irish fare as "classic pub fare" instead. Rodriquez does have quite a pedigree from stints at Emerils in New Orleans to The Bernards Inn in Bernardsville as well as time cooking in Puerto Rico. His menu reflects his experience with sophisticated options such as pan roasted scallops with fresh corn, fava beans and buerre blanc for dinner and a B.L.T.A; applewood smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, garlic aioli on sourdough bread for lunch. Like all ambitious chefs, he has a signature dish which serves as an appetizer on the lunch and dinner menu and is a big hit with the customers.
"Spicy Tuna Pizza is something I came up with living in Puerto Rico and combining the best of sushi and pizza. Everyone says its the best and we sell about 30 a day. I start with a fried rice patty and use the highest quality #1 yellowfin tuna on top."
I was beyond excited to try it, combining my two favorites, sushi and pizza. Heather ordered my second choice, a B.L.T.A sandwich. Our lunch came quickly and I looked at my dish curiously. It did have the appearance of a pizza, round and sliced like a pie, but that's where the similarities ended and the sushi took over. The dish begins with sushi rice shaped into a disk and fried giving it a crispy exterior and a soft interior. On top is a generous helping of chopped raw yellowfin tuna followed by a drizzle of wasabi creme fraiche and soy gastrique (a fancy French word for a reduced sweet and savory sauce).
I cut into the first triangle and immediately appreciated the texture of the rice, crunchy and chewy paired with the mellow tuna. Sushi is only good when it's extremely fresh, letting the simple brightness of the fish shine through. This was evident and I could tell the chef wanted the fresh tuna to be the focal point of the dish. The finishing touch was the tandem drizzle of wasabi creme fraiche which softened the expected heat of the wasabi. It was a good partner with the soy gastrique which was slightly sweet against the savory saltiness of the soy sauce. As I faithfully eat one "slice" after another, I couldn't help think how much I'd love to come back for dinner and have this again with a glass of white wine.
Heather was happy with her lunch, too. Two large slices of toasted sourdough bread with lots of bacon, butter, lettuce and thick slices of tomato and avocado. It looked like someone had just returned from the farmer's market with a bounty and put it all in this sandwich.
Dillon's Publick House is clearly in the midst of a transformation. With an eclectic, contemporary menu nudging out the Irish classics, it seems we have a bright young chef in our midst ready to stretch his culinary boundaries as far as his skills will take him.