Restaurant Review: Ghostwriter Public House
If someone asked you for a culinary destination point, you’d probably point them in the direction of the Short North. Or German Village. Or perhaps to Polaris or Easton for suburban types. Johnstown, as whole, is under-the radar, and that puts Ghostwriter Public House under the radar too.
But a short trip up the road yields a treasure in Ghostwriter Public House. Ghostwriters, generally, construct stories for other people to use as their own, and the idea behind the name is that each meal is a story. You could probably wax philosophical about who plays the role of the secret writer (the chef?) and who tells the actual story (the food?). But at the end of the day, the architects of the experience are well-qualified: Chef Brett Fife was formerly found at Lindey’s in German Village.
The restaurant itself is a project from Dennis and Denise Blankemeyer, the founders of Crow Works, and you’ll see their design sensibilities at work with Ghostwriter’s sophisticated accent in a warm setting that somehow teams modernish sensibilities and sleek lines with a rustic-pub vibe. The result of all these elements is somehow a place that seems a little mysterious and eminently tasteful.
And tasty too, once you hit the menu.
Consider starting with an order of Tempura Cheese Curds ($9). The tempura batter wraps each curd in an impossibly light, impossibly crispy shell. Just straight-up, the curds meet the primal desire as a vehicle for melted cheese. But then, there are sauces to gild the lily: a light roasted apple vinaigrette or a heavy, heady black garlic ranch. They add an element of variety that makes it impossible to stop eating.
Devils on Horseback ($10) also makes an appearance at Ghostwriter. It’s the house take on a classic, teaming rich goat cheese loaded into a sugary-sweet date wrapped in bacon. Here, the bacon is rubbed in coffee that brings an appreciated complexity to a familiar dish. At some point in the restaurant’s website, it mentions that attention to detail is what makes a good story. Something like the depth that the coffee gives the bacon is one of those sorts of details.
For bigger appetites, there is classic pub food, case in point: The SmashBurger ($15). Built on a double patty, the SmashBurger is hardly smashed. No complaints about that. It’s tall and almost perky instead, with a bun bejeweled in dark-roasted sesame seeds. Inside is a careful mix starring dewy-soft caramelized onions and an aged cheddar ale fondue.
There are also more formal options, such as a likable pork chop, achingly tender and teamed with butternut squash, pickled shallots, pumpkin seeds and mole negro, akin to an unsweet chocolate sauce that was almost popular a couple decades ago. Mole never got as big as it deserved to be, but the kitchen’s version is a show-stealer: thick and incredibly dark with a robust deepness that harmonizes nicely with the Pork ($24).
We could probably talk for a thousand years about the desserts. But one dessert in particular begs attention: a banana bread sundae. Having first experienced such a thing in Deep Ellum years ago, the prototypical banana bread sundae has occupied obsessive headspace ever since. Expertly executed at Ghostwriter, the Warm Banana Bread ($8) dessert is built on a firm banana bread with cocoa nibs, plus Jeni’s ice cream and drizzles of a luxe salty caramel sauce. It’s accented with some of those special Ghostwriter details, a toffee banana slice and brown butter powder. Sublime.
For young people, there’s a kids menu, and they can score all the burgers, nuggets and mac & cheese their little hearts desire. For the grownups, there’s a thoughtful collection of seasonal and classic cocktails along with pints and whatever else you need from a pub.
Ghostwriter Public House is open Tuesdays through Sundays at 5 p.m. at 49½ S. Main St. in Johnstown.
For more information, visit ghostwriterph.com.