PUBlic Legacy swaggers into Orange like a maverick staking its claim in the Stadium Promenade chain-apalooza, a center where cookie-cutter eateries dominate—Lazy Dog, Salty Dawg, Sauced BBQ, Chili’s, and King’s Fish House to name five.
Open since late November, the indie operation was implausibly polished on my December visits when I broke my own rule for new restaurants: Stay away for 40 days. Other newborn spots I squeezed in before year’s end suffered the typical just-open blues: uninformed servers, spotty booze inventories, typo-ridden menus, wobbly execution from the kitchen, and worse. My expectations were tame.
Experience certainly factors into PUBlic Legacy’s impressive startup speed. Partners Chad Dickey and chef Gerry Kent are battle-tested, having launched PUBlic House in Temecula 15 years ago. This O.C. location is a replacement of sorts for the recently shuttered PUBlic 74 in San Juan Capistrano, though a third sibling thrives in Murrieta.
A bit unnerved at being the first and only customers for Friday holiday brunch, we get our choice of roomy booths in the sun-splashed dining room. Comforted by the sight of top-flight bottles behind the 30-stool bar, we start with signature cocktails. Our order spans the spirits spectrum, and each drink proves expertly concocted, despite the campy names like PUBlic Defender and PUBlic Policy. Tomato Addiction is a crowd-pleasing starter—a super-shareable array of blistered cherry tomatoes slick with herbs, fresh garlic, and a trace of balsamic vinegar teamed with a wedge of creamy Brie and toasty planks of sourdough. I’m not surprised to learn it’s a top seller. Also lovable are the crispy Brussels sprouts sprinkled with tangy goat cheese and craisins steeped in balsamic. Starters are a robust lineup, boasting winners such as roasted broccoli with soy-ginger dressing and sesame brittle; mac and cheese starring orecchiette, Gouda, fontina, and browned shallots; and a dull-sounding but gloriously tasty mushrooms and hummus. Fluffy sunflower hummus topped with sauteed mushrooms is curiously light and deeply savory. You won’t miss the pita bread thanks to thin slices of just-toasted sourdough boule. Ménage a Trois is a changing trio of the day’s soup, grilled cheese sandwich, and a salad; $15 is a steal for this well-finessed spread.
PUBlic’s broad menu features eclectic American fare with a comfort food accent. Brunch is served daily until 2 p.m., so why wait for the weekend, right? Start slow with a latte and daily pastry. Or go large with the juicy house-brined pork chop with maple drizzle under a fried egg. The frittata has it all: a veggie scramble crowned with terrific Mornay sauce, nuggets of pork belly, and roasted tomato. There’s a classic Benny with house-cured bacon and silky scratch hollandaise. Vegans get their own Benny with mushrooms, “egg,” and charred tomato over toast. And coffee? Here it’s called Jitter Juice, and it’s a staggeringly good drip brew. Before that cup, the only passable pub coffee I’ve ever had is an Irish coffee.
After brunch, the fare is all starters and hearty grub. The first-rate smash burger is actually two brisket patties, grilled on a flat top for retro sizzle, stacked with cheddar, pickles, and Dijon aioli. Kobe Wellington is built on a 10-ounce patty decked out with duxelles, cheeses, and aioli that overwhelmed the massive burger with saltiness. Smoke-roasted, thick-sliced corned beef and nutty Emmenthal cheese upgrade a soulful Reuben sandwich. Seafood chowder is rich and tomatoey, redolent of cioppino but short on fin fish. Coconut Thai curry teems with fresh vegetables poured over basil rice for a graceful vegan dish. Steak Darla is luxurious filet mignon of Angus beef and Kent’s take on steak au poivre, fragrant with cognac and peppercorns and optimized by buttery mashed potatoes and veggies du jour. Ribeye fans get a 16-ounce beauty with a chile-coffee dry rub. Five-spice seasoning and time on the griddle flatter the half chicken bolstered with greens and fingerling potatos. Desserts are a changing handful of seasonal sweets from a crème brûlée to cobbler and the irresistible Magix Bar of chocolate, peanut butter mousse, and pretzel graham crust.
The bar has a flip side facing a dark and cozy den with a date night vibe. A custom portrait of Anthony Bourdain by staffer Kendrick Lewis presides over drinkers tempted by a most enticing bar program. Bypass the signature cocktails, and you’ll discover a next-level well with the likes of Tito’s, Fords, and Buffalo Trace. Every wine by the glass is a lavish 8-ounce pour, and 16 taps include O.C. releases from Stereo, Brewery X, and The Bruery.
Well-versed servers help navigate a menu full of novel dishes and choices galore. They’re in sync with the bar and kitchen crews—the effect is a welcoming, sincere hospitality. It’s easy to imagine this as the gathering spot for a post-Angels celebration or pre-movie bite. Not that PUBlic can’t stand on its own. In fact, it stands an excellent chance of being that local favorite where you spend too much time and too much money.
1547 W. Katella Ave. Orange
5 Best Dishes
- Tomato Addiction
- Mushrooms and hummus
- Legacy smash burger
- Steak Darla
- Starters, $5 to $15;
- Large plates, $16 to $45;
- Brunch, $10 to $26
Look for patio seating in the spring.