Counter Culture: Folsom's Churchill Arms tackles Irish, Brit fare
03/08/2013 12:00 AM
03/07/2013 5:27 PM
March 17 is St. Patrick's Day, and you know the drill: Irish- and British-themed pubs serve gallons of Guinness and generic green beers, fill their cooking pots with corned beef and cabbage, and prepare for the party-hearty. It's the one day of the year when everyone who isn't Irish becomes Irish in an honorary sort of way.
Let's not forget the source of all this celebration, which would be Ireland's patron saint. One account: St. Patrick was born in Britain around 377 A.D., was kidnapped at age 16 by Irish marauders and bundled off to Ireland for a life of slavery, escaped after six years and returned to Britain, studied to become a priest, later returned to Ireland as a missionary, and converted the population to Christianity. Along the way, it is said, he banished all the snakes from the island.
Fast-forward to the present. Among our favorite pubs are a pair of disparate players on the St. Pat's Day scene. As he has done for 27 years, Brownie's Lounge owner Clair Brown will serve succulent corned beef and cabbage March 16-17, with live music, dancers and pipers on St. Pat's Day (5858 Land Park Drive, Sacramento; 916-424-3058).
In Roseville, the Boxing Donkey plans breakfast next Friday, themed dishes next weekend (including corned-beef tacos) and live music on St. Pat's Day (300 Lincoln St.; 916-797-3665, www.theboxingdonkey.com).
Meanwhile, lunch pal Bruce Anapolsky and I stopped by the Churchill Arms Pub to get in the mood. We found the spacious dining room a step ahead of us, already decked out in cardboard shamrocks and green crepe-paper streamers.
Bruce is CEO of the Julius Clothing specialty store in the Pavilions center. He was recently back from Fashion Week in New York City, with a spring forecast. "We saw a lot of reds (for men) and oranges (for women)," he said. "The industry is always changing. Even men are starting to wear red and royal-blue pants."
Unfortunately, he was too jammed with business to seek out any of New York's legendary pubs.
The Churchill Arms in Folsom opened last July in the space formerly occupied by Streets of London, which at the time was the sister store of the venerable Streets of London on J Street in midtown.
The interior hasn't changed much. It's still a handsome space that gets its pub vibe from dark wood, faux brick, and 18 draft and 20-some bottled beers.
The kitchen's deep fryer gets a workout from the likes of battered pickle chips, onion rings, zucchini and hot wings. Also on the menu are five burgers, eight sandwiches and three salads – a nod to the "green" food group – along with the more traditional steak and mushroom pie, bangers and mash, and shepherd's pie ($4-$13). Somewhat puzzling is the inclusion of "British spaghetti Bolognese." Does Italy know about this?
We ordered soup du jour (asparagus-bacon), Scotch egg, fish 'n' chips, an Irish-Cuban sandwich and, just because some of the best dishes in contemporary England and Ireland are Indian and Thai, a plate of chicken curry.
We looked at the Scotch eggs with interest. Two hard-boiled eggs, encased in pork sausage, deep-fried and cut in halves. Lots of flavor and textures going on.
"It tastes like a Sausage McMuffin with egg," Bruce said. "I'm pleasantly surprised."
The soup had luscious texture and was bumpy with tasty pieces of bacon, but tilted to the salty side.
As straightforward as fish 'n' chips may seem, the best versions of the classic dish require many variables to converge. At Churchill Arms, the hand-dipped, beer-battered cod was hot and juicy, in a crisp jacket that had actual flavor. The spuds are cut in-house; choose from thick and skinny, but eat 'em while they're hot because they wilt quickly. The housemade tartar sauce needs another incarnation; better is malt vinegar.
For the chicken curry, chunks of chicken breast mingled with a very mild and sweetish curry sauce, ladled over white rice dashed with paprika. We agreed it needed heat.
Having more potential was the Irish-Cuban sandwich. You won't find a genuine Cuban sandwich outside of Florida, but Sol Cubano in North Highlands (5734 Watt Ave., 916-332-2883) and the Bread Store in Sacramento (1716 J St., 916-557-1600) both make decent takes.
The real thing is assembled from slices of marinated, slow-roasted pork, top-quality ham, Swiss cheese and dill pickles layered on Cuban bread that has been smeared with ballpark mustard and either butter or olive oil. The whole thing is grilled on a plancha, basically a panini press without the ridges.
Cuban bread is feather-light and crunchy, and gets its flavor from lard. You can't duplicate the sandwich because so much of its character is derived from the texture of the bread, which we've never seen outside Florida.
Too, the roasted pork is best when first marinated in Cuban "mojo" sauce (garlic, olive oil, citrus juice), as prepared at Sol Cubano.
Given slack for all that, the Churchill Arms' still offers a misguided, way salty version that substitutes corned beef for the pork. In this case, the marriage between two cultural cuisines should end in divorce.
Good burgers are where you find 'em, in this case at Cascada Mexican restaurant in Placerville.
The thick, juicy half-pound patty is made from prime-rib meat and sits on a lightly toasted ciabatta roll that can handle the heft.
Ours was topped with avocado, bacon, pepper-jack cheese and sautéed mushrooms, with a mound of crisp, well-seasoned fries ($11.95).
Get it at 384 Main St., Placerville; (530) 344-7757, cascadaonmainstreet.com
CHURCHILL ARMS PUB
Where: 649 E. Bidwell St., Folsom
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Mondays-Fridays; 9 a.m.-2 a.m. weekends
Food: Two 1/2 stars
Ambience: Three stars
How much: $-$$
Information: (916) 984-3706, www.churchillarmspub.com.
Call The Bee's Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.
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