I can attest to the fact that it is possible to make your way across the United Kingdom and Ireland by eating nearly exclusively in pubs. In fact, it's pretty much expected.
While we're a long way from the Pond, let alone from being across the Pond, the Bull's Head Pub in Meridian is attempting to bring a little of that pub flavor to Idaho, albeit in a relatively new, two-story building on Eagle Road rather than a centuries-old building on High Street. The result is not quite British pub, but more casual bar. While the menu offers a smattering of traditional British pub fare, including the requisite fish and chips and shepherd's pie, it's also filled with decidedly more American items like burgers, steaks and assorted pasta dishes.
On a recent evening, my dining companions and I headed up the switch-backing stairs to the second story, where the actual pub is located. The entire building is a bit maze-like, with an all-ages version on the ground floor. Upstairs, the pub section is relatively small, with a high-backed dark green bench lining one wall, fronted by sturdy tables and worn wooden chairs. Around the corner is a game/activity area that can be home to a number of pastimes. Depending on the night, one might wander in to a poker tournament or a bunch of polka-dancing seniors.
After a dedicating some time to our pints of Bass ($2.25 on a half-price special), we dug in. I'm pretty versed in fish and chips ($11.95) and fear being served hunks of fish dripping in grease. This was definitely not greasy. In fact, the chunks of cod were rather dry and flavorless, and chewing them and their sturdy batter took more effort than necessary. The fact that they did not soak in much of the malt vinegar I drowned them in was evidence of the dense breading.
My usual dining companion fared better with the shepherd's pie ($7.95). Bull's Head has literally turned the traditional dish upside down, building it on a large mashed-potato volcano filled with Guinness-marinated beef and covered in a gravy seasoned with a healthy shot of wine. The marinated beef was easily the standout of the meal, with that slow-cooked tenderness that puts the comfort in comfort food. The addition of the wine to the gravy was a nice touch that gave an earthy flavor to what could have been a rather bland dish.
Our guest diner went for what he knew, the All-American Cheeseburger with bacon ($8.95) accompanied by fries. While the thick patty looked pre-formed, it was still large and juicy, and the bacon was crisp and plentiful enough to show up in every bite. Considering this diner's only comment was, "Hmm. Burger's good," we'll consider it a success, although his fries were only lukewarm.
While the food was marginal, we appreciated the dry humor of the bartender who acted as our server, keeping us entertained as well as hydrated. Bull's Head doesn't hit the pub theme, but it's definitely a place where you can have a close and rewarding relationship with a bar stool.
--Deanna Darr thinks everything is better with a cuppa and a pint.