THE DOG'S BOLLOCKS

Brit bar and grill dispels myths about English grub

Great food and a great civilization go hand-in-hand, observed culinary luminary Paula Wolfert, so, I presume, the influential food writer must be a big fan of bangers and mash, mushy peas, black pudding and other staples of the British Empire. For many of us, however, eating British food is akin to a shag session with Dame Edna ' the very thought of it is repulsive, yet strangely inviting.

So when Best of British Soccer World Sports Bar and Grill beckoned, I approached its doors with a trepidatious reluctance usually reserved for Princess Di biopics. Just uttering the name of the place is a mouthful in itself, which I took as a bad omen, but then I thought, why get my knickers in a twist when I haven't stuffed a single morsel in my gob? Besides, if the food lived up to its (bad) reputation, I'm sure there would be some decent Brit beverages to wash it all down with or, rather, with which to wash it all down.

Occupying what was once a corner physician's office, this I-Drive haunt is longitudinally spacious, with a semicircular bar bisecting the karaoke and dining area up front and the billiards/dart room/arcade in the back. Not surprisingly, a football motif pervades ' the owners wrote to 125 soccer clubs asking for autographed jerseys and memorabilia, which they've prominently displayed. Throw in 15 TVs and a pull-down projector screen and you've got yourself a haven for armchair hooligans.

Patrons aren't greeted at the door, but rather have to traverse all the way to the bar area before being told to sit anywhere they like. Orders are taken in good time, but once the food arrives, you'll be hard-pressed to get any further attention. Don't get me wrong, the wait staff and owners are an extremely affable lot bent on fostering an air of camaraderie and kinship; they're just not very adept at the art of service.

But when the coronation chicken ($6.75) arrived, my initial fears about the palatability of English fare were allayed. The crowning achievement features a cold hoagie filled with chicken and raisins enveloped in a creamy mayo-based sauce tinged with curry. The sandwich recipe was originally concocted to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the idea being that subjects wouldn't have to cook a hot meal on that auspicious day.

The cheese and onion pasty ($8.95), pronounced 'pass-tee,â?� is a crimped pastry reminiscent of a Jamaican patty, served with chips ' 'England's contribution to world cuisine,â?� as Kevin Kline noted in A Fish Called Wanda. The fried tuber accompanies many of the dishes here, the most popular of which is the fish and chips ($13.95) with beer-battered Alaskan cod, but being fearless is part and parcel of enjoying English food, so consider using the chip as a tongue dampener with the chili burger ($9.50). The patty packs a peppery wallop thanks to the wicked habanero. Small by American standards, the burger was charred around the edges. It used to be bigger, but the piercing bite of the peppers precluded diners from finishing it, thus the downsizing. Still, anyone downing the fiery sandwich is promised his or her photo on the Wall of Fame, a feat accomplished by yours truly (the first to do so, I might add). Alas, the promise of a photo was forgotten by the owner, further underscoring their need to improve service.

The beef and ale pie ($12.95), its rich stew of carrots, mushrooms and beef chunks specked with chopped garlic, is the dog's bollocks (i.e., positively smashing). A dash of paprika and a pinch of curry powder go into making the spicy shepherd's pie ($11.95), but if you're looking for a heartier beef dish, the former is more satisfying.

'The best Indian food comes from England,â?� or so Brits are wont to say, and given the large South Asian populace across the pond, there's credence in the statement. So the lads here have secured the services of Hash Patel, an Indian chef who comes in during the day to prepare various curry dishes ' korma, madras and chicken tikka masala to name a few ' but the sauce of the chicken jalfrezi lacked the thick, velvety texture often found at better Indian restaurants, and the absence of a tandoor, or clay oven, was evident after one bite of the naan.

Desserts, or 'afters,â?� fare a little better. Though the strawberries and cream ($4.75) aren't Wimbledon-caliber, the chocolate profiteroles ($4.95) are worthy of being served up at the French Open. The indulgent choux pastry cream puffs are drizzled with chocolate sauce, then piled high on a square plate layered with single cream. The Italian cream cake with lemon mascarpone was also bang-on, but trifle, the quintessential English dessert, is surprisingly absent here.

BOB demonstrates that Brit fare can be edible, and even delicious. If they can just iron out their service deficiencies, this budding gastropub could be as nice as pie instead of a ham sandwich short of a full picnic.

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