Publico Kitchen & Tap

Posted On March 31, 2016

Publico Kitchen & Tap features outstanding fusion cuisine in an inimitable atmosphere

By Jackie Perrone

Photos by Sally Taylor

Tired of the same-old, same-old menu choices? The next time you visit a restaurant which seems different and interesting, look around at some of the nearly-invisible staff people. In the main arena, bartender and waiter are two important designations. Invade the kitchen and check out the dishwasher and the oyster shucker. You may be looking at next year’s entrepreneurs.

The three men at the head of Five Points’ newest eatery started small and learned their trade from the inside out. (Of course, degrees in restaurant management didn’t hurt.) Today, Michael Duganier and Robert McCarthy and Stan Panos have proudly unveiled Publico Kitchen and Tap, at the site of the former Garibaldi’s on Greene Street, across from the fountain. They think they landed on a golden spot and already enjoy success with the Five Points clientele. 

“Mike” Duganier is the local point man for the Columbia eatery. “We think we found the perfect location for this venture,” he says. “We are three people with plenty of experience in the restaurant field, and we trust our vision together of what we want to achieve. This is only our first, and we couldn’t be more optimistic about that vision. Look for more to come in the future.”

This energetic young man was a dishwasher in a restaurant in his home town of Batavia, NY while still in his teens. By age 19, he had earned a degree in Hospitality Management at Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, and joined the food and beverage team at Opryland Hotel and Resort in Nashville, TN. He progressed to management with the RDG Restaurant Group, opening their fresh seafood restaurant in Destin, FL.  From there he connected with a company specializing in sports-focused restaurants, and continues his relationships with athletes and the NFL. You’ll find huge TV screens and plenty of athlete-branded features at Kitchen and Tap.

The name? Well, eating and drinking are equally important. “Kiss cheeks and drink wine,” is Mike’s summary of their theme. They host a higher-end casual atmosphere designed for recreation, and of course Kitchen and Tap promises good things to eat and drink. The wine slogan is just a metaphor for all good beverages, with a huge selection of beer and alcoholic drinks literally On Tap. As for the menu, they use the word “Fusion” with abandon. How else to convey the eclectic assortment of American, Mexican, Thai, Asian and Japanese dishes, just to name a few on the list.   

Speaking of menus, enter Chef Toby Leeuw. He, too, traversed several states to find his way to South Carolina, starting life on a Michigan farm where he gravitated to fresh food and excellent cooking from an early age. “My parents were wonderful cooks,” he says. “On a farm, you learn to appreciate fresh produce and its versatility. Also they taught me a work ethic derived from my Dutch ancestry, and I found cooking to be a way to express creativity. I did not attend any culinary school, just read a lot of books and did a lot of experimenting with my own ideas.”

Surprisingly, Leeuw’s degree from the University of South Carolina is in Accounting. He’s on top of the business end of running a kitchen as well as the implementation part. He refuses to name a favorite among the dishes at his command. Creativity allows him to experiment and come up with innovative combinations you may have never seen or heard of before.

Enter Fusion Cuisine: Famed Chef Wolfgang Puck is considered one of the pioneers of this creative approach to cooking. It’s simply a wide-open approach to food preparation which is ready to combine ingredients in a non-traditional way and come up with something made of existing things yet entirely new. Asian Fusion might draw on traditional dishes from Japan, Thailand and China for a new combination.  California Cuisine is considered a fusion culture, taking inspiration particularly from Italy and Mexico. What is California pizza? Shop in a European Delicatessen for pickles, veggies, and/or meats to top your pizza dough. Australia is fast becoming known world-wide for its Fusion Cuisine, with Malaysian and Japanese and Indian foods combining alongside influences from Thailand and Portugal.  Pizza made with Cheddar and Salsa and Refried Beans is offered as Taco Pizza. Fusion Sushi will roll maki with different types of rice and ingredients such as curry and basmati rice, cheese and salsa. Spiced ground lamb and capers, rolled with Greek-style rice and grape leaves, may be said to resemble inside-out dolmades. Then there’s Regional Fusion, using elements closer to home but still combined creatively.

Our cherished fried chicken and macaroni may be found in a lot of cafes in the Midlands. Why not branch out at Publico Kitchen and Tap, and sample Pork Belly Spring rolls, or steamed edamame tossed in sesame oil and ginger chile salt and served with ponzu? It may be your cruise around the world without going any farther than Five Points. No passport required.

That’s what entrepreneurs Duganier, McCarthy and Panos are betting on. They think our city is ready for their brand of innovative cooking; success here could generate a string of these fun- and adventuresome-dining destinations across the South. Mike Duganier emphasizes South. “I go to Buffalo for Christmas and I can’t wait to get out of there and come back here,” he says. “I like to wear flip-flops and T-shirts. It’s a lot easier life without all the snow.” His partners are both in Florida these days, but their team is looking all around, Tennessee and Texas specifically. Opportunity is where you find it. And Fusion Cuisine may lead the way.

Publico Kitchen & Tap

2013 Greene Street