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A Chat with Mario Campos, Chef of The Publican
Fremont beer temple Brouwer's opened its sibling bar/restaurant, The Publican, in Greenlake's Tangletown neighborhood last week, revamping the former Bandolero space into an upscale neighborhood pub. For Mario Campos, Brouwer's former sous-chef, it's his opportunity to finally run his own show.
“It's a really interesting type of art,” says the 28-year-old longtime Seattle resident, who got his start eight years ago washing dishes, and then cooking, at Ravenna's Pair. Like going from playing in a symphony to being its conductor, he says, “you might be able to play the violin better than that guy down in the pit, but you can't stop conducting to go do it for him. The measure of a chef is not what you yourself can do, but what you can get out of other people.”
He is quick to pay his respects to the chefs at restaurants like Pair and Portage Bay Cafe who invited him out of the dish pit, taking the time to teach and mentor him. "I love hiring a 20- or 21-year-old guy who obviously has an intelligent spark and passion, and then supplying them the little bit that's missing: the knowledge," he says.
Campos admits that the first week of business has been a bit overwhelming. A couple of equipment malfunctions led to a delayed official opening, and he's still trying to work out the bugs while projecting zen calm and composure for his team. The Publican, like Brouwer's, features stepped-up pub food that aims to live up to whatever is flowing from the taps.
Unlike Brouwer's, the beer list here has been downsized to a more digestible selection – there are 22 beers on tap to the 64 at Brouwer's. And instead of 300 different bottled beers, The Publican shines its spotlight on the bevy of quality brews now coming in cans – with 45 in all presently on the menu, plus a nice selection of obscure-leaning bourbons and tequilas.
As for the food, the elevated pub grub here has another twist: it's all about breakfast, which is served all day, and well into the night. “There's a healthy portion of the populace that might not roll out of bed until twelve or one, and we want to be there for them,” Campos says. Indeed, the Fried Chicken & Waffles—boneless fried chicken and a bacon waffle served with apple butter, country gravy, bourbon maple syrup and an optional two eggs ($14-$16) has been a big hit at all hours.
Those who just want a Reuben, classic steak frites or pub burger can get their fix, too – in the form of a ground Wagyu beef and bacon patty with aged white cheddar, caramelized onions, roasted garlic aioli, organic baby head lettuce, Romas and house-made barbecue sauce ($14).
From the sourcing of the produce (Frank's) and hamburger buns (Grand Central Bakery) to the ability to have a sell window custom-built to his specifications, Campos is having a great time doing things his way (and incorporating beer into his recipes wherever humanly possible). He insists on making everything he can from scratch, grinding his own meats, making his own sauces--even hunting down bourbon barrels to age Worcestershire sauce on site.
For someone who sacrificed a lot of parties and vacations, opting to instead spend most of his 20s over a hot stove, The Publican is a nice reward--though he's neither slowing down nor patting himself on the back yet. "Cooking is like staring impossible in the face and then doing it," he says, "but I don't know if I've done that yet."
The Publican, 2253 N 56th St, 206.420.8943, publicanseattle.com