Even before an infusion of creativity over the past couple of decades, English cuisine generally got a bad rap.
There is some truth in the old saw that "English food" is in oxymoron, in that the food that usually represents the best of a cuisine — in this case, the likes of Sunday joints and Christmas puddings — tended to be less than stellar, with overcooked and underseasoned meat and vegetables and "sweet" flavors that more often were dark and dreary.
But great food always was to be found in England at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, in expatriate restaurants and especially neighborhood pubs. There, simple, country-style — and more often than not, excellent — food could be had for not much money. And, of course, the category included the English breakfast, a culinary tour de force if ever there were one.
I first encountered the English breakfast in that gastronomical black hole known as the youth hostel. I admit to having eaten my share of youth-hostel meals, and the English breakfasts were the only ones worth remembering.
At Shakespeare’s Grille & Pub in Henderson, you don’t have to go at breakfast time to indulge in the aptly named All Day English Breakfast ($10.95). And, as it turns out, you don’t have to cross the pond to get the real thing because here it is, complete with bangers (mild pork sausages that sort of equate to American breakfast sausages, except they’re larger and not as fatty), thick-cut, meaty English bacon, sauteed mushrooms, tomato-y baked beans, grilled tomatoes and toast. Oh, and eggs up, as ordered, and perfect.
The bangers also starred, of course, in the classic Traditional Bangers & Mash ($12.95), which had a particularly attractive presentation. The mashed potatoes — that would be the mash — had been piled in a mound in the center of the plate, with the bangers, halved on the diagonal, arranged around them like logs around a fortress. And over it all was deeply flavored, satisfyingly savory onion gravy, which gave the mild meat and potatoes a healthy flavor boost.
Fish and chips is another staple of British pubs. This one was titled Simply the Best Fish & Chips ($14.95) — no hubris there, but it sounded pretty promising since it was beer-battered cod. And it was indeed chip-shop worthy, the fish firm and mild, the batter a golden-brown coating that devolved into crisp shards. Tartar sauce was served on the side, but there was also malt vinegar on the table for a nice acidic bite. The plate also included coleslaw, and it was a good-sized dish, a mix of crisp and crunchy green and red cabbage and some carrot with a creamy dressing.
Shakespeare’s is a pub, first and foremost; that’s reinforced by the flat-screen TVs hung every few feet or so, broadcasting soccer and basketball. There was even a trivia contest going on, the questions posed and answers supplied by a woman with a microphone, but while we at first thought it might be an unwelcome interruption, it actually turned out to be a lot of fun, with the much more difficult than usual questions pondered by the young couples, family groups and retirees scattered around the room. And with shared answers being yelled between tables, the trivia contest added a convivial air.
Along with good food and beer, what more could any self-respecting pub want?
Las Vegas Review-Journal reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Call Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or e-mail her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.Review
Shakespeare’s Grille & Pub,
790 Coronado Center (at Eastern Avenue), Henderson; 837-7900.
Overall — B+
Food — A-
Atmosphere — B
Service — B
Pluses: Good pub-style food.
Minuses: Our server had too much ground to cover.