TAMPA — If it's a chain restaurant, a theme is inevitable.
To better understand what we're getting with the Pub, a new restaurant in International Plaza's Bay Street, let's look at the definition of a "pub":
A building with a bar and public rooms licensed for the sale and consumption of alcoholic drink, often also providing light meals.
So a pub is a place to unwind with a drink. About three-quarters of the bookish menu is devoted to booze. And the rest is food better described as hearty than light.
The theme, of course, is a British public house. You can tell it's British by the dark wood, the heavy use of the Union Jack, an unfortunate naming convention for mixed drinks involving Beatles song titles and a wardrobe of kilts. Or in some cases tartan miniskirts, which isn't really the same thing. Though I didn't witness anyone complaining.
As far as the chain, the Pub would be a burgeoning one. Part of the Tavern Restaurant Group, there are 10 locations, all conveniently listed on the back of T-shirts worn by the staff. Three are in Florida, the rest in Ohio and Kentucky. None in Britain.
Let's start with drinks.
It is a pretty serious subject here. The six pages devoted to beer break options down to English, Scottish, Irish, American, handcrafted, bottled and layered beers. But the thing that has generated the most buzz is the Wall of Beer. Go upstairs and get an activation card, and you can pour your own drafts from the 20 taps coming out of the wall. Wave the card in front of the iPad over the beer you want, and pay by the ounce. I wasn't convinced that letting me draw my own Guinness was a good idea, but it wasn't hard. I followed the directions on the wall, then waited for the creamy head to form. Once it did, you never would have known I had no idea what I was doing.
It's a gimmick that may amuse beer fans. But they should know that doing the work themselves doesn't save them any money. Most of the beers were coming out of the wall at 34 cents per ounce, which is more than it costs ordering from the bar.
There are modest lists of red and white wine, but more care is taken with lists of scotches, bourbons and gins. For the adventurous — or the indecisive — sampler flights are available.
So, on to the food.
I found that the best dishes were the ones that didn't stray too far from classics that you might find in a real British pub. The shepherd's pie ($11.95) avoids a beef vs. lamb disagreement by using both, and included peas that were a more vibrant green than I was prepared to see. The fish and chips ($13.95) probably needed a newspaper-lined boat to be more authentic, but was a large, nicely fried fillet on top of thick fries. And an appetizer of a Scottish egg ($7.95) was better executed than I have seen before. The sausage that wraps the boiled egg was not tightly packed and it was lightly fried. Too many times, it comes out dense and overdone. The sinus-clearing mustard dip made it even more interesting.
Not sure how authentic a Welsh dip sandwich on a pretzel roll ($12.25) is, but with prime rib, peppers, onion and cheese, it sounds a lot like a cheesesteak. The pretzel roll adds character to the sandwich, and again with the vibrant green in the peppers. It shouldn't be as surprising as it is, I guess. Under the stack of fries was a fried pickle, which seemed well outside the theme of the joint. And it slid out of its batter, a cardinal sin of fried pickles.
For something to share over beer, just remember that french fries are "chips" and potato chips are "crisps." We tried the curry chips ($4.95), which come as a big plate of steak fries with yellow and red curry sauces. I couldn't tell which one was which, but one was sweeter and one was spicier. The tavern crisps ($8.75), house-made chips with barbecue sauce, cheddar and bacon, were better. The dish makes you understand what all those powders on the chips in the vending machine are trying to taste like.
The biggest hit and biggest miss came from the dessert menu. The whisky bread pudding ($6.50) was a good rendition of a custard-y bread pudding, and the whisky sauce was so strong they should check IDs. But the deconstructed sweet potato pie ($5.95) was perplexing. It didn't seem so much like a deconstruction as a plate of roasted sweet potatoes with ice cream on top. To be a deconstructed pie, there would have to be some form of crust, or something playing the role of crust. Something.
Of course, you could just have another beer. There is certainly one you haven't tried yet.
Jim Webster can be reached at [email protected] sptimes.com or (727) 893-8746. He dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.