A new British pub opens that in some ways is not very British.
According to the New York Times, the English pub is an endangered species: "Closing at something like a rate of more than three a day, pubs have become scarce enough that . . . more than half the villages in England no longer have one."
It'd be lovely to think that while pubs are shutting down all over England, new ones that perfectly capture their charm would be found popping up in the States. It just so happens that Pub Polaris recently opened and advertises itself as the real deal. Try as it might, though, there's nary a trace of the wonderfully homelike and slightly formal atmosphere that prevails even in the rowdiest English pubs. That culture just doesn't translate into a place located in the retail and restaurant maze of the Polaris area.
Location is not the only flaw. Somehow it doesn't feel authentic when the young men and women working the door are wearing, respectively, kilts and bright tartan miniskirts. There are other discrepancies, but I'll deal with those later. (No matter how realistic or not the joint may be, it was certainly popular-and noisy-on my visits. For example, at 7:45 pm on a Wednesday, the wait was 20 minutes.)
But I do have to say that the publicity department of this chain restaurant knows something about English pubs: The drink menu is worth reading for its take on pubs and beer. Maybe you'll even like the humor.
More importantly, Pub Polaris has an impressive array of beers and good Scotch. I tried the Beer Sampler, which involved your choice of various English, Belgian, Scottish and American brews. All were very nice. The best beer I tried was BrewDog IPA: malty, hoppy, full-flavored, clean and dry with just the right mouthfeel at just the right temperature. But, horrors, it was served in a small brandy snifter when I had ordered a pint!
I sampled most of the supposedly English items on the menu. I'll give the restaurant this: It fries a mean pickle! Savory sticks of dill pickle, nicely breaded, were fried to a lovely crisp. There was nothing particularly British about the British Dip Platter: spinach and artichoke dip (like the kind somebody brings to your neighborhood potluck), a not-too-savory goat cheese dip and a crab dip overwhelmed by cheddar and scallions. The platter provided a mess of pita points for dipping. Unless something happened I'm not aware of, England still isn't in the Middle East, right?
I also tried bangers and mash. The restaurant proclaimed that the dish came with "Two Authentic British Sausages." That can't be true. These sausages tasted good, and it's well-known that authentic British sausages have no actual flavor, as if they were made with sawdust (which might be the case). As for the dish's sides, the mashed potatoes were good and the peas and carrots pleasantly chewy; avoid, however, the little salad for its chemical-tasting dressing. The most authentic thing about this version of bangers and mash was the tasteless gravy.
Knowing full well that English pubs don't serve hamburgers, I still tried the Classic Pub Burger. It was quite nice despite a slightly dry bun and wilted toppings: thick, with a fine beefy flavor. What the menu called English Pot Roast did not arrive sliced, but shredded. It was tasty enough.
The very unBritish-sounding Spicy Jamaican Jerk Shrimp consisted of six or seven smallish shrimp simmered in a spicy broth. Simmering is not my favorite treatment for shrimp, but the broth was good enough that I made sure to sop it up on the slices of toasted baguette.
On my last visit, I planned to try the fish and chips and got diverted by the fish tacos on the summer menu. Not English, but by then I didn't care. The small fish chunks were perfectly fine, with a nice fruity salsa and a pleasing lime/sour cream sauce. But, unfortunately, the tortillas appeared to have been taken straight from the plastic bag without even a hint of warming. Shame!
I tried (and liked) one dessert: Tipsy Laird. The slices of pretty good pound cake were fried just enough to be crisp on the outside, but not at all greasy. It came with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries in a little brandy and a decent pool of soft custard.
A warning: Service was badly coordinated, with different folks taking our order from those who delivered the food. Apparently, they didn't talk to each other. On my first two visits, the main course arrived before we'd had time to take a couple of bites of the appetizer.
1554 Polaris Pkwy.
Atmosphere: It's not an English pub, but a gussied-up American version. Noisy, too.
Recommended dishes: Fried pickles, Spicy Jamaican Jerk Shrimp, Classic Pub Burger, Tipsy Laird, the beer sampler.
Price range: Starters $4.50-$11.95; shareable appetizers $15.50-$17.95; soups and salads $2.95-$12.95; sandwiches $7.50-$10.95; entrees $9.95-$16.50; desserts $6.50.
Hours: Monday through Wednesday 3 pm to closing, Thursday through Sunday 11 am to closing.
Service: Friendly and energetic, but not always in synch.
Reservations: Accepted for parties of eight or more.
Rating: * * 1/2
This story appeared in the September 2009 issue of Columbus Monthly.