Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Crown and Goose ... another near miss in Knoxville

I have to start this post with some football snobbery and a bit of nomenclature: for the duration of this post football will refer to what the rest of the world calls football while "football" will refer to what Americans call "football" and is most definitely what the rest of the world is forced to call "American Football" (a strange distinction for them but they're used to it if they've ever witnessed Australian Rules Football, another bizarre game enjoyed in essentially one nation on earth). Is this an old and trite rant from football snobs to everyone else? Absolutely! That it requires repeating makes me, and my five football love brethren, sad. We're a mopey lot.

In another time and in another place we lived near an absolutely wonderful pub. It was, in many ways, a perfect pub. The interior was literally imported from Ireland, the food was high quality yet readily affordable if you paid attention, and the beer was fantastic for any taste. Of course if you were looking for Bourbon, Scotch, or Irish Whiskey, all were readily available and in great quality and quantity (how can that be bad?). Their Sunday brunch was fabulous after a co-ed football match or an ugly cyclocross race. They were within walking distance and their waitresses even put up with me after I'd had a snifter too many and said stupid things (it happened once...). They hosted the remnants of rugby squads after tournaments. And, very importantly, their big screens played every important football match: from Serie-A, to the Premiership, the Bundesliga, or EuroCup and Champions League, they were on to be watched.

After our move here there was nothing that even sounded similar until the announcement of Crown and Goose's opening in the Old City. Everything sounded right in the description including promises of football on the screens, high quality food and beer, and the location could not be more perfect, especially with the addition of their "beer garden" or even better, beautiful patio and alleyway seating...

This is one of those so-close, so-far situations I've found, so let's start with the beer. To be honest, a pub should have pub specials, and they do make some effort. They have the standards in Guinness, Bass, and Boddingtons, and they have three very well-made micro-brews, brewed by the Calhoun's family of brewers. Their ESB is a good example of the style as it should be, fairly mild, low carbonation, and a nice malt/hop complement. The IPA is the low spot in their brews, not because it isn't very tasty--it is--it just isn't an IPA. A good pale ale with mild hop aroma? Yes. An IPA? Nope, but try one, you'll like it. Their stout is a wonderful thing. Truly, one of the best examples of the style I've ever had; served on nitrous and in a 20oz serving, life is pretty good. Otherwise, there are far too many boring domestics and even boring imports. Where is the Beamish? or Murphy's Oatmeal Stout? They do try with Highland Brewery's Oatmeal Porter (which is pretty tasty) but only in bottles instead of draught. How about an exotic brew from across the pond? None to be found. Luckily, I should repeat, their stout is delicious.

The menu is another issue. The issue with the menu is definitely not one of quality. Everything I've eaten has been quite tasty without exception. The complaint is generally with cost. This is not pub food. I know it is, as advertised, a Gastropub, so my complaint may be moot in many eyes but $14 for fish'n'chips, no matter how tasty, is pushing it for fish and chips. $30 for Filet Mignon or Scallops and Foie Gras makes perfect sense and doesn't offend, but the scale is shifted pretty far to the outrageously expensive in a city which doesn't seem to support it. Moreover, if I see as many Millers and Buds on tables as I do I'm surprised if those dishes sell to match expectations. Of course, this problem is not reserved for the Crown and Goose, lots of places fall into the same price range... it could be that I'm cheap.

Moreover, when the price is reasonable the portions may lack. I love Bubble and Squeak, but for $5 it should be more than a saucer-sized three bites, and it isn't. Actually, if you think about raw ingredients along with required preparation, with any amount of bubble and squeak (potatoes, cabbage, some oil and egg) the profit is about 500% above of ingredient cost. You could charge an extra dollar for a trough full and still make out well, so make a potato monster happy (even at the risk of making me look like a pig!) and do so. Please? I'll order an extra IPA to cover the difference if that helps.

Personally I find the chips lacking as they are a bit droopy rather than crispy, but it may simply be that I prefer frites to chips and the chips I've had in London and Oxford were not a fair representation of the style. Perhaps the English prefer droopier fries and I am more Belgian in my preferred potato preparation. That I can accept. The wife adores their chips so certainly we are a house divided on that particular subject.

When the pub first opened they were closed on Mondays. I've always held the opinion that the day we most require a pub is Mondays as a way to hide from the miserable return to reality with which we so recently dealt. Very often the only solution is strong drink, good friends, and greasy food. Tuesday may be a bit slower starting than Monday was but we'll be cushioned by our pleasant experience Monday evening (even if we are pained by the headache Tuesday). Luckily my streetside ranting at their door was clearly heard by someone (or at least I like to delude myself into believing so) as they started opening on Mondays and having a great happy hour to boot. Monday's Fish'n'Chips are half price as are their draught beers! Suddently a 20oz IPA and a 20oz Stout to wash down some chips makes Mondays down the pub much much more reasonable.

Back to the subject of football... I almost never see football but rather "football" and occasionally Lady Vols Basketball (the latter of which is 10000 times preferred to the prior). I have it on good authority that if I simply demand football be played, one of the numerous stations providing the great game (Gol, Sky, or Fox Soccer Channel) will but put on the big screen instantly. I don't necessarily doubt this as I have seen Bundesliga on the big screen and a random, obviously bored server and I talked football for a while... it must be put to the test. Let us arrive en masse on the day of a good match and drink heartily while acting out our best hooligan antics! I'm sure if we are relatively polite, tip well, and drink better we will be tolerated but it will require a crowd to put this to the test. If I alone start cheering on Tottenham (Go Spurs!) while everyone else is attempting polite conversation I may, very likely, be asked (less than politely) to leave. NOW!

The service is generally a bit slow but there are several good bartenders who will take your orders promptly, ply you with booze, and make sure your food arrives promptly. Tables are a bit more hit and miss (often miss) but they did feed me oohhh... a "few" pints on my birthday (after not so gently inquiring to my party about my designated driver) so they can be forgiven. Just don't expect instant seating and you'll likely be happy.

Really, my hopes may be inappropriate, and I've had just enough poor, but never bad, experiences at the Crown and Goose to make me hesitant, but I do keep returning. Often Monday nights are most palatable as they're quite quiet and service at the bar is prompt. When I have company in town I almost always take them there once hoping that will exceed my poor expectations and provide good atmosphere and food, and sometimes it does.

So, to the pubs of the world, in particular Crown and Goose, put some football on the screens, feed me some quality potatoes, and keep the beer flowing with prompt service and you'll see me far too often for my pudgy waistline. Please? I'd appreciate it even if my clothes don't!

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