Suddenly, Denver's a wee bit overrun with Celtic pubs.
In addition to the Celtic Tavern (see review above), the growing list of "authentic" pubs in the area includes the Cheshire Cat Brewpub and Restaurant, at 7803 Ralston Road in Arvada, and Celtic Crossing, at 363 Village Square Lane in Castle Pines. But a recent lunch at the Cheshire left me wondering why we're so eager to eat "authentic" bad food.
One explanation could be the atmosphere: The Cheshire is appealing in a Victoriana-meets-microbrewery kind of way. Part owner and native Englishman Geoffrey Bruce -- he's also allegedly the guy who coined the term "pubmaster" and is "considered a foremost expert on pubs and their brews," according to the Cheshire's brochure -- spent the past three years renovating the 137-year-old Van Voorhis house, painting it a mustardy color outside and decorating the rooms with fine-grained wood and green velvet chairs. The fancy chandeliers and heavy, floral-print draperies appeal to the ladies-who-lunch crowd (the ladies can also stick around for the $5 afternoon tea or the $15 high tea, which involves more sandwiches and desserts); the bar area contains inviting, comfy leather seats that draw men in for languorous beer-quaffing.
They're better off sticking to the beer than trying to eat the Cheshire's "authentic" pub fare. The casserole-style shepherd's pie ($8.95) came filled with overcooked lamb chunks and topped by a potato-cheese crust that was all cheese; while the bangers and mash ($8.95) featured tasty, beer-soaked sausages, the accompanying "fried" onions were nearly raw, and the mashed potatoes were dry and uninteresting. Less traditional pub fare was no better: Noodles and cheese ($6.95), a dish that was supposed to offer a "rich cheese sauce," instead tossed penne in what tasted like a milk-thinned cream cheese sprinkled with scallions. And the "mello" fried chicken ($9.95) was still bloody (or was that bloody awful?) underneath a tasty, garlic-fired buttermilk crust. The best of the batch was the fish and chips ($8.95), two pieces of still-juicy cod in a decent ale batter that had a nice crunch and came with skin-on, thick-cut fries.
When it wasn't rock-hard and impossible to gnaw (as was one slice we ordered), the gingerbread ($3.50) was decent, ginger-heavy and drenched with a sweet-tart lemon curd. And the moist devil's food cake ($3.50) came topped with a homemade chocolate-buttercream frosting. Both desserts went down easily with the help of the Cheshire's own stout -- not very creamy and slightly sweet, but still more along the lines of a dry, Guinness-type brew.
As a watering hole, this place is a true suburban oasis. The beers are made by brewmaster Charlie Sturdavant, who also runs Colorado's second-largest brewery, the Golden City Brewery, and was a co-founder of Tommyknocker in Idaho Springs -- so he knows his stuff. And non-beer-imbibers will be delighted with the fresh-squeezed lemonade ($2.25), which works particularly well in the perfect Arnold Palmer, a fifty-fifty deal in which Red Zinger tea is the other half. But while the Cheshire Cat is awash in liquid assets, its menu didn't earn many grins from me.
I have yet to visit Celtic Crossing -- a body can eat only so much corned beef -- but it's reportedly filled with Irish antiques, some of them from a fifteenth-century monastery. It also boasts not one, but three Irish chefs brought over from Ireland by Noel Coyne and his partner, Kathleen Ryan. The menu includes the usual Irish suspects -- Irish stew, corned beef and cabbage, a shepherd's-style cottage pie -- along with such un-pub-like fare as scallops tortellini and roasted duck with Thai-spiced mango and crispy noodle salad. At the very least, Celtic Crossing appears to offer another suburban option for St. Patrick's Day.
Denver has plenty of other St. Paddy's Day choices, of course: There's our very own authentic Denver pub, Wynkoop Brewing Company (1634 18th Street); the well-entrenched Fadó Irish Pub (1735 19th Street); Sheabeen Irish Pub (2300 South Chambers Road in Aurora), which does one of the best Guinness draws around; Pint's Pub (221 West 13th Avenue), which boasts a huge roster of single-malt whiskeys, live ale and upscale pub grub; Clancy's Irish Pub (10117 West 37th Place, Wheat Ridge), a top choice for fish and chips; the always crowded Streets of London (1501 Colfax Avenue); and the noisy but fun Nallen's Irish Pub (1429 Market Street), which offers a limited, catered-in menu.
And if you're willing to sacrifice beer in order to enjoy some of the town's best fish and chips, head to Yorkshire Fish & Chips (7275 Pecos Street), a tiny spot that serves up the town's most authentic pub fare -- minus the pub.
What makes the difference here is the peanut oil that's used for frying, which means food flavor gets locked in before the oil gets soaked up -- and that makes for a crispy, crackly batter coating that holds in all the fish juices. Even though the Yorkshire's fish and chips are served in paper-lined baskets in deepest suburbia, this is as close as Colorado comes to Great Britain's classic dish, which is wrapped in newspaper and handed out of windows across the country.
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