What are the component parts of a good English pub or tavern? The term pub comes from “public house,” which does a better job of communicating the original use of the space: the pub is a place of refuge. In the English context, that usually means refuge from the constant damp and rain, and the cuisine of the English pub has come to reflect that. A lot (perhaps even the majority) of places stateside that use the term “pub” don’t really deserve the title; their atmosphere and orientation having nothing to do with the idea of the warmth and homeliness of the “public house.”
Those looking to see a good example of the old-school public house concept so well known in the British Isles and hard to find here can check out Friar Tuck’s Tavern in Mystic. In both atmosphere and food, the tavern is a faithful tribute to the original idea. While the “pub” part of the term “pub grub” covers the atmosphere, the “grub” part of the term is a good representation of the food: unfussy, unpretentious, but hearty and filling. Like the atmospheric notion of the refuge of the public house, the food is meant to stick to your ribs, warm you up and insulate you against the rain. During our recent cold snap, when temperatures dipped into the single digits in the middle of the day, Friar Tuck’s hit all the right notes for those seeking relief from the elements.
Friar Tuck’s Tavern
15 Water St., Mystic
Hours: Sun.-Thu. 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m., Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.
Situated in the basement of the Mystic Museum of Art, Friar Tuck’s has walls of exposed stone, creating a cozy, warm atmosphere, even in one of the coldest weeks of the year. A gas-powered stove added to the warm atmosphere. (The purist in me was hoping for a real fireplace, but alas...)
The menu is replete with classic English dishes, but with some added options one would expect from coastal New England.
From the appetizer menu, the heaping offering of King Richard’s mussels ($11) were delightful, with a garlic-herb butter sauce and slices of fried bread that somehow made for the perfect dish for the extreme cold outside. (In this writer’s opinion, it is a sin when a dish of mussels comes without the amount of bread requisite for mopping up whatever sauce comes with a mussels dish. Friar Tuck’s passes this test.)
The main courses are the kind of old-school English pub grub described above. I’m thinking of fishermen and shepherds coming in to warm themselves, exhausted and starving after a long day’s work. The Lancashire hotpot ($17) does the trick nicely, with a rich lamb stew served in a crock with breaded spuds and bread. (If you’re trying to watch your starches, Friar Tuck’s Tavern is not for you.) In a similar vein, the shepherd’s pie ($17) was filling and tasty, if a little pricey, as well as heavy on the potato and a little light on the beef. As one would and should expect in Mystic, the clam chowder was rich and flavorful.
While the food is certainly worth a visit on its own, Friar Tuck’s also works perfectly well as a drinker’s bar, with a space full of locals watching sports. While the ceiling is covered with flags from European football teams, the TVs stayed faithful to our American version. Behind the bar is the board for a season-long NFL betting pool. A rotating tap list has all the classic British beers that are sometimes hard to find in America, such as Boddingtons and Innis & Gunn, as well as local beer.
This article appeared in the February 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine.
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