Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Beckham Grill: The Rose & Crown Pub

Beckham Grill has been on Walnut Ave. in Pasadena for as long as I can remember. (Their sign reads "Since 1978," which is as long as I've been alive.) And in all the years of driving past, literally thousands of times, I can only remember two meals there: a fish & chips on a cold winter night that was very good, and a slice of prime rib that was pretty bad. 

The restaurant itself is pretty old-fashioned: dark wood that looks like it isn't dusted frequently enough, large booths, dark lights, attentive service. And at both meals I had, I was easily the youngest person in the room. (The average age of the customers was probably twice mine.) It's not an unpleasant experience, but it's not a particularly good one. It's the kind of place I imagine my grandmother, were she still alive, would love to have dinner at 5PM. (Though she would find the $3.50 valet parking - the kind where the attendant takes your car and parks it literally twenty feet away - as obnoxious as I do.)

But I still visit Beckham Grill every once in a while, mainly for one reason: the Rose & Crown Pub. In the front of the restaurant, off to the side, is one of the most authentic-looking English pubs I have ever been to in California. The other day a friend and I stopped by.

If you've been lucky enough to visit pubs in the UK or Ireland, or perhaps a really great pub here in America, you will recognize a lot of the familiar themes: a fireplace that actually gets used, tables and chairs scattered around, posters featuring the Union Jack - often smaller versions of the flag itself - framed on the walls, tables tucked under staircases, beer signs everywhere, and a dartboard with a dedicated area for playing (not the kind of dart-throwing space where you're constantly tripping over other patrons' tables).

We were the only customers when we showed up, and we took seats at the bar.

Happy hour in the pub at Beckham Grill is from 4-7PM Monday-Friday. Pints of beer are $1 off (there may be a discount on other drinks, and the pub has an extensive list of martinis and single malt scotches, but I've never actually drank anything here besides beer) and all items on the "Pub Menu" are half price. 

My pint of Guinness, cold and creamy. I can't actually say what it cost - my friend wouldn't let me pay, as I had just made her a nice dinner a few days before - though it was certainly not cheap. I believe they are between six and seven dollars per glass, even with the happy hour discount.

My friend's Bass. Bass is one of those beers that I always forget about, sometimes for years at a stretch, like Harp or Smithwick's, then I return to it and have a sip and say "Wow, I forgot that I liked that."

The cost of the beer is mitigated by the fact that there are always plenty of free snacks laid down during happy hour. The first things put out on this day were chips and salsa and crudités. (Often there are ribs and nachos as well.)

I'm always up for some veggies and dip, especially if one of the veggies is bell pepper strips.

A few minutes after I had taken the picture of the snack table, some chicken salad sandwiches were put out. I'm always up for that, too. (I guess it would just be more accurate for me to say that I'm always up for free food.) But we also decided to order some snacks.

The BBQ Short Rib Sliders sounded good to both of us, and the combination of short rib and slaw was quite nice. Unfortunately, the bread has obviously been frozen and improperly defrosted. The top pieces of bun were soft and hot, with rock-hard, cold sections in the middle. If these had been full price ($9.95) I would have said something to the bartender along the lines of "Are you kidding me?" At half-price, we didn't make a big deal of it.

The "Crispy Porcupine Shrimps" were much better: jumbo shrimp, cooked in phyllo dough, with additional crispy wisps of dough wrapping each shrimp. Each bite is, unsurprisingly, very crunchy, and the two sauces - an aioli and remoulade - are both tasty, though I must admit there was about twice as much of each as was necessary. At the happy-hour price of $5.25 for this plate, it's a very good deal.

If you're looking for a happening place or a good deal on drinks, the pub at Beckham Grill is not for you. But if, like me, you enjoy a pint of Guinness and a game of darts on a late summer afternoon, in a relaxing atmosphere where you don't have to worry about "Sweet Home Alabama" blasting on the jukebox or guys blowing pot smoke in your face - only two of the many reasons that I don't go out in Old Town much anymore - then this pub may be just what you're looking for.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fast Food Review: Wendy's Spicy Bacon & Blue Chicken Sandwich

In February of 2010 I tried Wendy's Bacon & Blue Burger and was not impressed. That kind of a statement always has to be taken with a grain of salt, though, because I am almost never impressed with fast food chains' burgers. They are almost always comprised of grey, flavorless, rubbery meat, and that Wendy's burger was no exception. (It also did not help matters that the previous night I had eaten Point Reyes blue cheese, my favorite blue in America, and the Wendy's blue cheese couldn't possibly live up to that.) I knew that was a burger I would never try again.

Yesterday, however, I was driving past Wendy's a noticed a banner advertising a "NEW! Spicy Bacon & Blue Chicken Sandwich." The Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich is one of those fast food items that everyone seems to love, and certainly one that I enjoy, so I figured it was worth giving it a try. As usual, ordering at this particular Wendy's proved difficult:

Wendy's employee: "How may I help you?"

Me: I would like the Spicy Bacon & Blue Sandwich by itself, please."

Wendy's employee: "Like, in a meal?"

Me: "No, by itself."

Wendy's employee: "Do you want the combo?"

Me: "No, by itself."

I pulled up to the window and paid and then the woman asked me if I would pull forward to the yellow line to wait for someone to bring the sandwich out to me. "It will just be one minute," she said.

It took eight minutes, although I wasn't terribly upset: I knew it wasn't going to be "one minute" and besides, at this Wendy's I am just happy when they get my order right. (It's so rare, as long as they can do that, I will forgive almost anything.) But, more importantly, when I got the sandwich, everything was very hot. This had obviously just been cooked. That's worth the wait to me.

At first glance, it looked just like a regular Spicy Chicken Sandwich, until I saw the pieces of bacon poking out from under the lettuce. 

But once I lifted the top I saw a fair amount of a gloopy sauce. Wait, I thought to myself. Is that what makes up the blue portion of this sandwich? Just a runny blue cheese sauce? That's lame.

But then I turned it over and noticed a nice amount of blue cheese covering the bottom of the chicken. If you don't like blue cheese, you would probably hate this. (But, I guess, if you don't like blue cheese you probably wouldn't be ordering this sandwich in the first place.)

I have had many sandwiches where the whole is lesser than the sum of its parts... but never to this extreme. The chicken was probably the best Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich I have ever had. It was hot, crispy, thick, and quite spicy. The bacon, as is often the case at Wendy's, was delicious. (No other fast food chain, with the every-once-in-a-while exception of Arby's, makes a bacon that I will even attempt to eat.) And the blue cheese was tasty.

But all together it was... just okay. The bacon and the blue cheese did not add anything to the sandwich. If anything, they actually detracted from enjoying the best Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich I have ever had. Where those things might complement a burger, they did nothing for this sandwich.

So I don't think I will ever order one again, and that's even before we get to the price: $4.99 plus tax. While that can't be called outrageous, it also can't be called a good deal. Particularly when Wendy's serves two of the better deals in all of fast food: the spicy chicken nuggets and the Monterey Ranch Crispy Chicken, both of which are only 99 cents.

This was a good sandwich, but not a great sandwich.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Beer & A Margherita & Other Weekend Eats

I had a very late lunch on Friday so I wasn't in the mood for any kind of big dinner. I decided to make an appetizer and just eat that. I fried some of Trader Joe's battered shrimp, tossed them in my beloved Tabasco Sweet & Spicy Sauce, and topped it all with goat cheese and chives. It was fantastic.

Saturday afternoon, while driving around, we needed a snack. I suggested we go by Church's so that Elizabeth can finally try their "Southern Style" chicken sandwich. I wrote about it in June, calling it "awesome" and "delicious." But she hadn't tried it yet. (She's enjoyed McDonald's take on the Southern-style chicken sandwich lately, and I had promised her several times that Church's is much better.)

It always takes several minutes to prepare, but I don't care - at least I can see them frying up the chicken. (Most of Church's chicken pieces are just sitting out under heat lamps.) So it's always hot and crispy. I was worried that this sandwich wouldn't be as good as the previous one and Elizabeth would say something along the lines of "You're an idiot," but she agreed with me that this sandwich is awesome and better than McDonald's. She loved how crispy and juicy it was.

And it's only $1.99. I'm not sure if there's a better fast-food deal out there.

Saturday evening we went over to Tim's to sample his newest beer. He used Centennial hops just like he did for the summer ale last month, but this was even better: smoother, creamier, slightly citrus-tinged. This was the second best beer I have had in 2011; the first was Tim's stout back in May.

After a few beers, Tracie announced that she had not eaten dinner yet and we should get something. We all agreed. She took out her phone and called up Mamma's, ordering an extra-large Margherita pizza and, at my request, 18 garlic knots. The pizza hit the spot perfectly.

Elizabeth and I had planned to go to Green Street Tavern for lunch on Sunday so she could have some more of those waffles she loved last month... but she twisted her ankle Saturday evening and wasn't in walking shape. So I made us brunch at home: fried chicken on biscuits with a pepper gravy. (I mean, hell, it had almost been 19 hours since I'd last had a fried chicken sandwich. I was due.)

Was it as good as the wild boar meatloaf sandwich that I had planned to order at GST? No. Was it still good? Oh hell yes.

I didn't want anything fried, nor any beer with Sunday dinner. (Actually, that's not true, I always want those things. But sometimes I have to take a step back and say "Do something a little healthier," you know?)

I've written before that I am not a big fan of pasta. It's not that I hate it - it's not even that I really dislike it, actually - it's just that I almost always find it incredibly boring. People have heard me say this and responded "Oh, I'll make you some pasta that I guarantee won't be boring"... and then they make some kind of noodle dish with shrimp and bacon and cheese and they proudly present it to me and say "How about that?!"

And I inevitably say "Yes, the shrimp and bacon and cheese are wonderful flavors... but the pasta is not. It is boring. If you removed it from the dish it would not make one difference."

However, there are a few pastas that I really like, and Buitoni makes one of them: Sweet Italian Sausage tortelloni. I had one in the fridge so that is what I cooked. I poured tomato sauce in the Cuisinart mini prep and pureed it with basil and garlic, then drizzled the sauce over the boiled pasta.

I ate dinner, watched the Angels lose on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball (here's a tip for any of you who like to gamble: always bet against the Angels in nationally-televised games, unless they're playing the Dodgers) and went to bed.

I think I had a dream about a fried chicken sandwich, but I'm not completely sure.