Pub Grub Means Great Food

During my misspent youth I worked as a barmaid in our local village pub. The Black Horse was a proper “drinking” pub and we did a brisk trade in pints of local beer, restorative tots of rum for the local fishermen and beverages for the “ladies”—Dubonnet and lemonade, snowballs, sweet sherry and the like.

The menu, such as it was, featured a couple of choices of sandwiches, elderly and rather dubious pies, and crisps and peanuts. And that, in 1970s Britain, constituted pub food.

So, I’m tickled these days when pubs on both sides of the Atlantic advertize “traditional pub fare.” Any self-respecting diner wouldn’t touch real pub food—as it used to be—with a long-handled fork. Luckily for us, the world has changed. In the UK you’ll even find pubs with Michelin-star-worthy food. Once such is The Sportsman in Seasalter on England’s Kent coast. The pub is miles from anywhere and nestled against windswept sand dunes but, since garnering its first star in 2008, the waitlist for a table now runs to about six weeks. I lucked in and ate there when it was still under most people’s radar but remember a dish of sparklingly fresh braised local brill (similar to turbot) with mussels and freshly dug fingerling potatoes.

Closer to home, there’s good (new-fashioned) pub fare to be found in Toronto. Two east-end gems I discovered recently include McGugan’s which, once you get over the silliness of deep-fried haggis balls (why bother messing with good haggis?), does beautiful pan-seared salmon and serves real chips (no fries here!) with a well-executed flank steak. The other is Morgans on the Danforth where the menu includes an imaginative charcuterie plate and perfectly poached black cod in a rich tomato-fennel broth.

Neither pub might warrant a Michelin star, but at least you don’t have to wait six weeks for a table.

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