But British food? I’ve not always heard the best things about British cuisine, despite the fact that some of my favorite literary descriptions of food come from British novelists (case in point: Dickens somehow makes the Cratchits’ homely Christmas dinner in The Christmas Carol sound like the best food ever).
Still, I was looking forward to trying the new Boar’s Head Public House in downtown Augusta – at the old Place on Broad location (formerly the White Elephant). And on a recent chilly Saturday evening (very British weather), the long line at another nearby restaurant drove Sean and I, along with our friends Connie, Jake and daughter Sophie, to check out Boar’s Head’s British fare.
With its hunter green walls, wood paneling and decorative accents (including a British flag), Boar’s Head strikes just the right note. And pub crawlers will gravitate toward the long, fully stocked bar, ornate with carved wood, mirrored backings and bottles upon bottles of liquid courage.
We sat at a table for four near the back (it was about 5:30 p.m. and the place was nearly full). Parents ought to know that there are no high chairs (“We’re working on it,” our server apologized), but 2-year-old Sophie happily sat in a big-girl chair when Connie pulled out crayons and a coloring book.
The menu features a variety of British food in the form of starters, mains and afters – including Scotch egg (hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage), bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes) and steak and Guinness pie. While much of the menu is fried, it also references many house-made and secret recipes – an intriguing sign.
But our first priority was the beer, or more properly, ale. Boar’s Head stocks a good selection of British and American ales (along with craft beer, wine and liquor), served in 20-ounce (“imperial”) pints. Even better, you can ask for samples of the ales before you commit. Both of us chose well – after sampling the Hobgoblin and Red Brick Brown ales, we went for a pint of each.
Foodwise, we started with two appetizers – the homemade crisps, to which we added a topping of Gloucester cheese, and fried mushrooms with blue cheese and ranch dipping sauces.
The crisps, which we call french fries, were fat, golden brown and tender potato wedges, gently drizzled with the fairly mild yellow cheese. The batter-coated mushrooms were deep fried and served with the clearly homemade dressings. The blue cheese was an OK match with the ’shrooms, but the ranch was excellent on both appetizers.
For our entrees, we each chose something different: I, the classic shepherd’s pie; Sean, the ploughman’s lunch, a platter with a house-made sausage, hunk of bread, cheese, pickled onions and relish; and Connie, the fish and chips.
All of us have food dislikes, and tonight we learned that blue cheese and peas (a classic British side – the mushier the better) are just not Jake’s thing. But Boar’s Head was able to offer him a Stilton burger (hold the Stilton), with cheddar cheese, mushrooms, bacon and a Guinness reduction sauce.
My shepherd’s pie was presented in a small casserole dish with a side of La Sueur-like peas. I actually make shepherd’s pie (technically, a cottage pie, since I use ground beef, not lamb), so when I saw the streak of orange grease along the mashed potato topping, I was a little wary. The potatoes were OK, but my first bite of the filling was a greater disappointment – tasting like a canned meat product.
Sean’s ploughman’s lunch, however, was a pleasant surprise. The plate looks very unassuming with the various ingredients jumbled together, but the house-made sausage had great flavor, with just the right amount of burn from the grill. The pickled onions looked daunting, but they weren’t at all “hot” and had great pickle flavor. A bit of the sausage, with a bite of bread and a smear of the savory-sweet and slightly tart relish made for a tasty morsel. The only item we left on the plate was the rather flavorless and crumbly Cheshire cheese.
Connie shared her fish, and we agreed that we’d had better. Both the white fish and batter had a similar mildness that needed to be perked up with some flavor – and the batter was doughy. And while I didn’t try Jake’s not-so-Stilton burger, he said it was great – and it certainly looked thick and tasty.
Meanwhile, Sophie had the very good taste to agree with our choice for dessert, the sticky toffee pudding – a moist and spicy dark cake, covered in toffee sauce and served warm with ice cream. We portioned off a small scoop of ice cream with a bit of the cake for Miss Sophie, who polished it off and asked for seconds.
Jackets on, we headed back out into the chilly night to walk off our British meal. While ours was a mixed experience, Boar’s Head offers a lot that is unique – and is worth a try for the ales alone. My plan for next time? The bangers and mash – which I’ve heard are terrific – and another slice of that sticky toffee pudding.