The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Friday, November 23, 2007

the turf tavern

Ever since I had my first confrontation with pub food--at the great Horse Brass Pub in Portland, Oregon--I've been afraid of it. The Scotch egg was something, once we discovered it, my housemates and I made into a running joke: like Mike Myers said in SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER, it's cuisine based on a dare. (And that was before the age of portable defibrillators, so we couldn't even reference those.) So in my past trips to England I've scrupulously avoided eating in pubs, even though I love warm English beer. But I'm in Oxford--I'm here to speak at a conference, and for the honor I had to leave my family on Thanksgiving Day and watch the Dallas and Green Bay games at a Legal Seafood in a deserted Logan Airport--and I arrived here very early this morning. I had a very traditional English breakfast (ham, bangers, egg, toast, canned baked beans) at the Queens Lane Coffee House, reputedly the oldest coffee house in Oxford (1654 is what they claim), killed time at a Starbucks while waiting for my room at the Spartan but adequate Oxford University Club, then took a jet-lag nap, then went for a long, chilly, and aimless run and ultimately got lost on the beautiful Thames Path. Getting lost on a tow-path, though, is the best way to get lost: it's pretty simple to backtrack.

So I was hungry, and I wasn't in the mood for anything but stick-to-your-ribs beef and good beer. I discovered, to my delight, that the pub named the Abbot Ale Perfect Pub UK-wide, the Turf Tavern, was two blocks from me. So I ignored some of the grumblings about the service and crowds there and went for both the suds and the food. Wow. It was perfect. I have always thought of those pies they serve as pubs as filled with the kinds of things that Anthony Bourdain would reject even for Tuesday's soups, but even if that was the case my beef-and-ale pie was fantastic. And I got to listen to dozens of undergraduates being undergraduates--and none of them were MINE.

I'm still pleased with the pub food at my own local, Piper's Pub on the South Side of Pittsburgh, but now that I know that Piper's isn't a magnificent anomaly but rather a very competent practitioner of an honorable tradition I'm going to be more critical. (I still love those hot curried fries.) I now see what they are trying to do, and why it's worth doing!


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