Friday, January 18, 2008

Review Week: A Good Pint and Fish and Chips In a Rather Surprising Place

When my grandfather passed away in October I flew home to Michigan through Cincinnati. I was using a frequent flyer ticket so I didn't have much choice on connections and found myself with about three hours to kill between puddle jumpers. Having nothing to do and not wanting to sit at the gate trying to read the same page in my book I'd been reading since I left New York LaGuardia, I wandered around the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport looking for a place to grab a bite to eat and a beer.

The first place I wandered into was well frankly pretty awful in regards to service and cleanliness. I landed at Gate 80 and there was what appeared to be a full service bar/restaurant almost directly across from the main gate area. I wandered in, asked if they were open and serving alcohol. The hostess said yes. So, I plopped myself at the bar and waited... and waited...with no bartender in sight. While I waited, three staff members walked by, looked at me and then walked away. Finally, I flagged one down and asked if there was a bartender. She said yes and walked over to where a group of employees were standing around talking and motioned to one of the girls that had earlier walked by me. She looked at me and then kept right on talking with her friends!! Finally, after about five more minutes, the bartender came over, sighed, tossed a menu on the bar and asked if I wanted anything. I looked at her and in my most charming voice said, no not anymore, got up, and walked out. I don't remember the name of the restaurant but if you are flying through Cincinnati, don't go there. Awful place. Awful service and the food that went by didn't look all that good either. (note: the directory of the Cincinnati airport says this place is the Bluegrass Brewing Co., the picture looks like the place but the name doesn't sound right)

Still in search of my beer and food, I went to the information desk and asked if there was another full service bar/restaurant as all I could see was a food court. I wasn't holding out much hope as the Cincinnati airport is small but the very friendly gentleman behind the desk said that there was a British pub right near the gate I was leaving from in two and a half hours. I thanked him and headed toward the place on the map he had pointed to.

A British pub? In Cincinnati's airport? Well, it might be what people in Cincinnati think a British pub would look like but I highly doubted it would be anything like the British pubs or even the Boston Irish pubs I know and love so well.

Note to self, always expect the unexpected, especially when traveling, because as I walked around the corner of the hallway I was directed to, there in front of me stood The Pub.

I walked into the place and while yes, it was definitely an airport and it wasn't as dark as a pub should be, it probably was as close to a pub as I'd been in since I left Boston. There were seven tellys and all were turned to either American football or English Premier League games. The barstools were of the type you typically find in London, short and no back and there was a full wall of good British beers on tap, including Fuller's London Pride, my pint of choice when I'm in the UK and Bass, my pint of choice when I'm here. I sat down at the bar and super cheerful bartender immediately came over, sat a paper coaster down (with Smithwick's on it). I told her I would like a pint of Fuller's and a menu. While she pulled my pint, correctly mind you...nice and slow, I perused the menu.

It was a very traditional pub menu complete with Shepherds Pie, Bangers and Mash, Ploughman's Lunch, and Fish and Chips. It also had the typical pub burger and appetizers that are found on this side of the pond. By the time I had finished reading the menu, I had a nice and correct temperature (cellar temp) pint of London Pride at my elbow. I asked about the fish and chips and was told it was made with cod or haddock flown in fresh with a traditional coating and pub fries, the only thing missing was the mushy peas (they serve it with cole slaw) but since I'm not a huge fan of mushy peas, that was OK by me.

While the bartender went to place my order, I read about the history of The Pub. The Pub is part of a chain of regional restaurants owned by the Tavern Restaurant Group. The group started by building authentic Scottish and British pubs in 1997 and has grown to include four Pub restaurants including the one at the airport. While I was waiting for my fish and chips, the bartender and I chatted about football (both types, she is Manchester fan and well...I'm Arsenal. She is a Packer fan and I'm well....a lifelong Cowboys fan). Then she brought me my fish and chips and a pint of Bass to wash it down with along with malt vinegar for my chips. I doused my fish and chips and took a sip of Bass before I broke into one of the huge pieces of deep fried Cod. When I cut into the cod, the crust was perfect and fish flaked wonderfully.

I could tell it was fresh cod and the chips were exactly the type of chips you get served in a good Chippie. All in all, probably the best fish and chips since I left Boston. I had one more pint of London Pride while I decided on dessert, which was a rather mediocre rustic apple tart. By the time I finished my pint and paid my tab,it was time to board my plane. All in all, my meal at The Pub was quite good, pretty British, and proved to me there is more than chili to be had in Cincinnati.

I don't fly much through Cincinnati for my business travel, but I'll tell you now that I know a place to get a good pint along with decent fish and chips, I just might start trying to a little more often.