God Save the Pub

When I'm a stranger in a strange land, the last thing I expect is a kiss on the cheek. I like to be welcomed by the natives of a foreign country, sure, but I certainly don't anticipate being embraced, as I was recently by a Yagua Indian woman in Peru. I was trading American goods for handmade crafts in an Amazonian village when she approached me. "Regalo," she said, shoving a painted gourd in my hands. Gift. Then she kissed me and mumbled something in Spanish. The guide translated: "She says she likes your aura."

Dave Beighcon, owner of the British restaurant and pub Muckers on Inverrary Boulevard in Lauderhill, appreciates everyone's presence, spiritual or otherwise. He kisses every female customer who walks through the door and greets men in similar fashion, throwing his arms around them. Clients new to the cozy, two-room pub -- one side a bar with pool table and dart board, the other a dining room with maroon-striped wallpaper and brocaded curtains -- are a little surprised at first. But it's easy to adjust to this brand of hospitality. Muckers, after all, is Yorkshire slang for "friends," which is how Beighcon views the people who spend money in his establishment. It's also how they view him. When he's absent from the restaurant, which rarely happens, "people complain that 'I didn't get me hug,'" he says. See, no one minds being Dave's mucker because he goes beyond offering an affectionate greeting: He serves his wife Kate's homemade Yorkshire specialties.

The menu offers only four starters and about a dozen entrees, but the selections are so authentic, they're old-fashioned. After returning from a recent trip to London, my in-laws complained that the pubs there have become so upscale that they couldn't find a decent shepherd's pie. (English restaurants are undergoing a radical evolution, much like those in the United States did in the '80s.) They couldn't find fault at Muckers, however. The 40-seat dining room is homey, decorated with British souvenirs, and filled with wooden tables. The adjoining tap room seats an additional 40 patrons intrigued by concoctions like the "Triple Stacker" (Bass, Harp, and alcoholic lemonade called "hooch") and the "Headblast" (cider, lager, and black currant juice).

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The pub is so authentic-looking, in fact, that my in-laws weren't disappointed by the fact that it serves cottage, rather than shepherd's, pie. The former is made with ground beef, the latter with lamb. The cottage pie was superb, the beef sauteed with onion, then topped with mashed potatoes and baked. Kate then double-starches the plate, adding chips (French fries) and a scoop of peas and carrots.

Serving several starchy dishes at the same time is common pub practice, which is why some accuse the fare of being too heavy. But starch fiends like me adore entrees like the Cornish pasty, a short-crust turnover filled with minced potatoes, beef, carrots, and onions. The steaming-hot pasty was complemented by the peas and carrots and a choice of chips or a snow fort of buttery mashed potatoes.

If a mountain of mashed potatoes seems like too much food (it is), check out the slightly smaller molehill of mushy peas. This side dish, accompanying the fish and chips main course, tasted just like it sounds. The soupy green peas, slightly mashed, suffered only from underseasoning -- another common criticism of British cuisine. The fish was wonderful, a thick, juicy fillet of cod battered and deep-fried to an air-filled crisp. It didn't even need the modifying zing of malt vinegar.

Muckers offers several blackboard specials, including a weekend roast. The stuffed pork loin was misleading, though, in that it wasn't made on the premises. When we asked for a description of the filling, neither the server nor the cook could oblige. "A butcher stuffed it for us," the server admitted. Nevertheless, it was a tasty entree, the tender, boneless pork wrapped around a pleasant center of wild rice. It was also too much food when the vegetables and potatoes were added.

Because the main courses are so large, patrons might think themselves wise to avoid the appetizers. But then they'd miss out on the Scotch egg, a treat I haven't had since I worked in an authentic British pub years ago in California. The hard-boiled egg was encased in ground sausage, dipped in bread crumbs, and deep-fried. Served cold, it was also garnished with Branston pickle (chopped, marinated vegetable relish). Another suggestion: Share the Yorkshire pudding as an appetizer. This puffy pastry, more like a fallen souffle than a dense pudding, was fabulous. Terrific onion gravy, which flavored everything from the Cornish pasty to the cottage pie, softened the center of the pudding.

In England, where the Indian population is notably large, pubs sometimes serve curried specialties. Muckers lists chicken or prawn curry on the menu, prepared in one of three ways: masala (mild), madras (medium), or vindaloo (very hot). Yet even the chicken masala -- shreds of white meat in a bitter brown gravy spooned over steamed white rice -- was too hot for me, and I like my fare piquant. Plainly, the sauce lacked balance. I can only imagine the searing qualities of the vindaloo.

I'd suggest that Kate stick to English fare, but her samosa starter was quite good. These four curried vegetable triangles, deep-fried, were pleasant and mild. A spicy raita, or yogurt-cucumber sauce, was less kind to the palate but wonderfully complex.

Desserts resembled the mashed potatoes in that they were (a) huge and (b) snowcapped (with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream). Neither the homemade sticky toffee pudding nor the apple pie is a mucker to the dieter, but both were irresistible. We especially enjoyed the pudding, a moist square flecked with bits of toffee candy.

Bon Appetit magazine is so thrilled with the evolution of British cuisine that its editors devoted an entire issue to it last spring. And I applaud the culinary advancement of any culture. But in our desire to leap forward, it's easy to lose sight of tradition. Muckers, where the host kisses you, the cook coddles you, and the server kids around with you, is a reminder that not everything wholesome and honest has to be left behind.

Muckers. 4506 Inverrary Blvd., Lauderhill, 954-749-4446. Dinner Tuesday through Sunday from 6 to 10:30 p.m.

Scotch egg $4.50
Yorkshire pudding (large appetizer) $4.50
Cottage pie $7.95
Large Cornish pasty $8.50
Sticky toffee pudding $3.95

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