Sunday, September 26, 2010

Designer Pub Food

Victoria Gastro Pub
8201 Snowden River Parkway
Columbia, MD

Hours: 11 AM-2 AM
Alcohol: gigantic beer list, wine and liquor too
Food: gussied up pub food

To the uninitiated, gastro pubs first appeared in the UK during the early 1990s, and have only recently come to America.

The idea is pretty straightforward -- they take your usual pub grub like burgers and fish and chips and take it up a couple notches.

So beer-battered fries are replaced by fries cooked in duck fat with a garlic aioli, which are very tasty but absolutely terrible for you, I imagine. And there are the obligatory kobe burgers, and everything's fresh, homemade and offbeat. However, there aren't a whole lot of dishes on the menu -- they pick a few dishes that work and stick to them.

But the same can't be said for the beer list.

There are dozens of beers from around the world in bottles with 20-30 on tap, numerous featured mixed drinks, and an extensive wine list. The one weird part is that they lack pub mainstays like Newcastle, Bodington's or Guinness, but then they have Blue Moon and a few other well-known beers.

The one problem with beer is that they don't keep very good stocks of some of their drafts, and they were out of my first two choices at 7 PM, which was vexing.

And then there are the fried rolls, which were tasty, but would have been tastier if they'd given them to us hot. Considering the high quality motif, that would probably be a nice upgrade.

The d├ęcor is typical pub dark but, again, fancier. And at our large round table, we had comfy rolling chairs.

Victoria is named after the railway station in London and one of the proprietor's daughters.

This was the second time I'd gone here with family for a celebration.

Both times we've gone, it's been on a weeknight, and both times, the place has been packed and we needed a reservation. Most of the people at the smaller tables were out on dates, as far as I could tell.

All the bells and whistles come at a price. After buying booze, a couple appetizers and feeding six people (no dessert), it cost $240, not including a tip. Even at happy hour, beers cost $5.90.

I started with the sweet potato, chipotle and lime soup, which was tasty but surprisingly not flavorful for something containing chipotle peppers and lime.

After hemming and hawing a bit, I decided to order the crabcake platter since I was in Maryland. The waiter told me that there wasn't much filler or Old Bay in it, and that the sweet corn it's served on is kind of like succotash.

That was a pretty accurate assessment.

Like everything else on the menu, seemingly, it wasn't "authentic," and I was surprised that it wasn't more food than the sandwich (not that I needed more food after all those fries and the soup).

Honestly, I'm not usually a big crabcake guy, and I think the lack of authenticity made me like it better. I'd definitely order it again if I went to the Gastro Pub -- it was the first time I'd had a crabcake and enjoyed it without reservation. It held together really well, and the creamed corn went with it really well.

As one might expect, the service was pretty solid. I was drinking soda water along with beer, and the waiter kept bringing more, and it seemed like he'd had everything on the menu.

All in all, I'd definitely go again, especially since my aunt, my father and my uncle fought for the honor of paying, so I wasn't stuck with the tab.

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying the Shirt, but decided against, given the price.

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