Shakespeare's vs. The Turf Restaurant & Pub
When we're feeling a little low, the first stop is usually Tempe's Rula Bula for a pint and a plate of shepherd's pie. With ground beef, veggies, whipped potatoes and cheese, this dish is a comfort classic and one of the first things that comes to mind when you think British Isles fare. This week, we sampled the pies at two newer restaurants -- one Irish, one British -- to see how their versions stack up.
In One Corner: Shakespeare's
1744 S. Val Vista Dr., Mesa
Our expectations were pretty low as we stopped by Shakespeare's British Pub on a slow night -- not because we'd heard negative buzz about the place, but because it looks exactly like its predecessor, the now defunct Molly Brannigan's. The food at Molly's was
The bar's new owners are the same English folks who run Churchill's Pub and Grill in Chandler. They elected to keep the Molly's decor intact, which works. There's a lovely corner patio outside that's open to the bar on warm nights. The tables are dark, sturdy wood with matching chairs and regal upholstered benches. Walls are faux brick, and the lighting is appropriately dim.
The shepherd's pie (here called Cottage Pie, the original name for the dish dating back to the 1700s) arrived in a deep bowl,
blanketed with smooth melted cheddar.
The potatoes were light and fluffy. As the spoon cracked through the cheese and potatoes to reveal the meat underneath, a rich, mouthwatering scent wafted up.
"Mmm...the gravy is delicious," mumbled one friend with a mouthful of meat. "Better than my mom's!"
The bowl was packed 2/3 full of ground sirloin in a thick, savory beef gravy. The meat was plentiful, although it sometimes stuck together in clumps that the gravy wasn't able to penetrate. Lightly cooked carrots and onions added a little crunch and texture to the dish. We savored every last bite and scraped the bowl clean. Definitely a good showing for Shakespeare's.
In the Other Corner: The Turf Restaurant & Pub
705 N. 1st St. in Phoenix
The folks behind Seamus McCaffrey's opened The Turf quietly this past February in the small strip that also houses Johnny Chu's Sens and Wade Moises' Pasta Bar. Since then, the pub has acquired a loyal lunchtime crowd, mostly downtown workers looking for a hearty lunch and perhaps to sneak in a pint while the boss isn't around.
Turf has all the makings of a successful Irish pub: wood everywhere, scanty lighting, a small corner stage for live music and a bar with counter stools that takes up one full wall. On weekends, it's often packed -- and loud.
But the din just adds to the authentic Irish pub feel. Just add a cloud of cigarette smoke (if it weren't illegal in Phoenix, natch) and you could almost imagine yourself on the Emerald Isle.
Our shepherd's pie arrived in a traditional shallow casserole dish, topped with a good amount of melted cheese and with the edges of the potatoes perfectly browned. It looked and smelled enticing.
The potatoes were smooth and creamy, and the cheese lacked the oiliness that often accompanies melted cheddar. We were off to a good start, until we discovered there was barely a half-inch of meat at the bottom with just a few token peas and tiny carrot bits.
"I suggested this place because I wanted meat," groaned my dining companion. "I like the potatoes and all, but we're not in the potato famine. Where's the beef??"
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What little meat there was had a nice spice level to it; not much gravy, though. Odd, considering the pie was served with a side of soda bread that's usually used to mop up the excess sauce. This pie was too dry to leave any drippings behind. Sigh. Overall, we were left disappointed and hungry.
In this battle, the Brits definitely beat the Irish.
The Winner: Shakespeare's