Menu overhauls are nothing new, but when a Michelin-starred restaurant like Public (210 Elizabeth Street; 212-343-7011) shakes up its roster — not to mention its service and design — it’s difficult to ignore.
Every restaurant dreams of reaching its one-year anniversary, but this year, Public is celebrating thirteen years on Elizabeth Street. The idea that one space is so beloved — especially by a city with endless options — is reason enough to perfect a menu and leave it alone. Yet after more than a decade of defending a reputation rewarded by Michelin stars and James Beard designations, Brad Farmerie and AvroKO are wiping the slate clean at Public.
Why? Farmerie’s personal dietary revolution.
“Everyone grows over the years,” explains Farmerie. “Thirteen years in, we had grown as a group and as individuals, so we kinda wanted to explore where we were all going. I personally have been eating very differently than I did back then, and so I think we want to reflect all of that in the new menu.”
Although Public always had a forward-thinking kitchen — the restaurant made it a point to offer gluten-free and vegan-friendly dishes from day one — a sense of perspective can only be achieved after lessons learned. Farmerie and his team noticed racking up awards has a downside. Despite Public’s attempt to offer a casual dining atmosphere, an aura of formality developed over the years, as one might imagine.
“We started with the intention of having it super fun and crazy…the place people could come back to every week instead of every month or once every year,” says Farmerie. “I think with some of the awards we garnered — the Michelin star — it was very much appreciated and exciting, but I think that it became a little bit more of a formal restaurant. So, we wanted to make it a little more approachable…more interesting on the menu. We thought if we wiped a blank slate, we could start back exactly the way we want.”
The “Game, Guts, and Off Cuts” tasting menu, a hallmark of the restaurant’s early notoriety, is no longer front and center. Tastings had become hour-long marathons, and Farmerie decided that once the rest of the restaurant world jumped onto the craft-butchering bandwagon, change was in order. White plates and individual portions became a thing of the past.
Now, quinoa flatbreads and gluten-free potato bread with sunflower seed hummus lead off the dinner menu. There’s no longer the option to add sweetbreads to the carrot and coconut soup; instead, a curry laksa with vermicelli has taken its place. Dishes at Public are designed to be shared and admired — the curry laksa is poured by guests from a teapot, while the aforementioned bread plate is served on a cake stand.
Though the changes may seem subtle, Farmerie and his team are doing what any good restaurateurs must: staying ahead of the game.
“When we first opened, we were all looking to prove something. I had never lived or worked in New York; nobody knew who I was,” says Farmerie.
With his reputation now firmly intact and anonymity part of his past, Farmerie has earned the right to restart from scratch. The kangaroo carpaccio has hopped off the menu, but a hemp-crusted salmon has been reeled in. A Moroccan-style braised lamb shank and grilled chimichurri skirt steak complete Public’s new list of shareable entrees. Those looking for decadence will still find it — especially in the dessert section, where an ice cream sundae comes with a sparkler to mark the glorious end to a hearty yet casual meal.
Likewise, Public’s bar adapted its menu to focus on zero waste and healthy ingredients. The Caramelized Kumquat Sazerac cocktail features the whole fruit (however diminutive), and bee pollen appears in the Pollen Pisco Sour, a modern riff on the Bee’s Knees. “You can’t really have [drinks] take too much time. That’s what I’m working on. That Caramelized Kumquat Sazerac takes twenty seconds to make, which I think is pretty cool,” explains head bartender Brett Hughes, who coordinated the menu alongside Eben Freeman.
Another change guests can now take advantage of? Stopping in to Farmerie’s own office, which has been relocated to Public. There, the chef and his team have created a parlor where guests can visit and take a sip of homemade cherry brandy while they wait. After thirteen years, you can only read so many comment cards.