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Publican House: Legendary beer and super-local cuisine

The Publican House

294 Charlotte St.

Mention Publican House to most locals, and they’ll think of one thing—beer. Long a legendary pub location, the place now makes some of the best craft brews in the city, right on site. But if you come for the beer, you’ll definitely stay for the food.

“I’m friends with a lot of the local farmers,” says Chef Brad Watt, noting that he spent years building relationships with producers across Peterborough County. “The quality of these ingredients, nothing is fresher than where you are, you see it as it grows, and you know the people growing it.” Once the chef and owner at Rare, another restaurant where farm-to-table is a top priority, Watt says he’d had his eye on this historic building at the corner of Rubidge and Charlotte in downtown for decades. He had lived nearby, soon after moving to the city from Charlottetown, and routinely sat on the patio (with a pint) of what was then The Arms, a long-time favourite pub.

But when the Arms closed its doors, this 170-year-old former home sat empty for a decade. When Watt moved in, he conducted a top-to-bottom renovation, salvaging original elements like the beams on the second floor, adding special touches like lights saved from the former Salvation Army Church, and the front doors from The Arms, and using lumber sourced nearby for much of the interior work. “Even the wood is local,” he laughs. “From the wiring to the shingles to the windows, there isn’t a single thing here we didn’t touch.” Sometimes he takes a moment to just enjoy the view from the little bump-out window on the second floor, the line of historic churches nearby lighting up the night.

It’s a lovely setting to enjoy some top-quality food. Watt serves me a brisket platter, the tender, smoky meat (from Otonabee Meat Packers) slow-cooked for 48 hours and finished in a wood oven, with triple-cooked fries and coffee-baked beans, his aunt’s recipe. Plus, for good measure, a mushroom pizza, covered in a mix of shitake, oyster and cinnamon caps. “The beef and pork here in Peterborough County are phenomenal, some of the best in the nation,” he says, reeling off a list of local farms that he uses, from strawberries from McLean Berry Farm, to goat cheese from Cross Wind Farm near Keene. “They’ve always been on the cutting edge,” he says. Even crickets, for an éclair he makes, come from Milennium Farm in Norwood.

And Watt gets his hands dirty, too, foraging for days every year with a few friends for wild leeks, bringing bags out of the backcountry. It all adds up to a fresh, diverse menu that ranks amongst the very best in the area. “I’ve been here 20 years, and it’s astonishing to see the culinary growth in this city,” says Watt. Case in point? Slicing into my last bite of perfectly seasoned, local bite of brisket.

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