214 N. Cedar St.
Entrée Prices: Moderate ($8-$18)
Serving: Dinner (Tues.-Sun.)
The Eagle in the Clerkenwell area of Central London coined the term "gastropub" back in 1991, and the concept has since leapt the pond and taken root here in the States. Summerville's version is the new Farringdon Bistropub. It takes its inspiration from the original, which is located on London's Farringdon Road, but it turns the concept a bit on its head.
The typical gastropub has the appearance and atmosphere of a pub but serves high-quality and reasonably-priced food. Farringdon looks and feels more like a nice restaurant that's starting to be converted into a bar. It's located in downtown Summerville in a big brick house with wide wraparound porches. You dine in one of two converted rooms with lovely old hardwood floors and walls that have been repainted in fresh, contemporary colors and hung with original art from local artists.
In such an atmosphere, you wouldn't be surprised to find entrées like a double-cut pork chop with bourbon apple chutney ($15), but you wouldn't expect a long, interesting beer list stocked with items like Stone Russian Imperial Stout and Founder's Centennial IPA. Nor would you expect a soundsystem pumping out AC/DC and Cream.
On the food front, there seem to be two competing concepts. Some of the appetizers take good old American bar food like wings and nachos and put a fine-dining twist on it. The chicken wings ($7) are grilled and served with an IPA barbecue sauce and Guinness/blue cheese dressing. The nachos ($10) have duck confit with white cheddar and red pepper pesto. Other items have never been considered pub grub, like steamed clams with a garlic butter white wine sauce ($10) and a cheese plate ($12).
The taking of bar food uptown doesn't quite seem to work. The duck confit nachos are presented nicely, carefully stacked on a white plate so there are several circular layers of tortilla chips. But, the execution is off. The top layer is okay — the chips crispy and the cheese fully melted — but the heat doesn't make it all the way through the pile, and on the second and third layer the white cheddar cheese isn't even melted. On the colder layers, the red peppers and duck tasted limp and dull. This seems a step backward from your classic bar nachos with gobs of chili, onion, and melted cheese.
The antipasto platter ($12) is a mixed bag, too, and in more ways than one. There's a selection of olives — big and black, small and green, and small and black — that run the spectrum from delicious to bland. The sliced meats — prosciutto, sopressata, and capicola — are spicy and good, but the marinated red peppers and mushrooms have an excessive vinegar sting.
But, when the entrées arrive, all is forgiven. The offerings include honest, hearty favorites like shepherd's pie ($14) and roast chicken ($14) as well as more ambitious dishes like duck breast with butternut squash risotto ($16) and a strawberry-glazed salmon ($18). The potato-wrapped grouper ($16) comes out on the side of a big plate with five asparagus shoots fanned out around it. The potato wrapper is crispy and provides a nice contrast to the delicate tender fish inside, and there's a mild creamy leek sauce served over the top.
The grouper's an elegant dish, but I think Farringdon Bistropub hits its full potential with entrées like the lamb shank osso bucco ($16). The shank is perfectly cooked, with meat that's tender, almost falling off the bone, and mellow in flavor. The thick, flavorful reduction is just right, too, and the creamy mashed potatoes and braised discs of carrot and celery that come alongside make for a filling and satisfying meal.
This isn't the kind of entrée you'll ever find in an ordinary bar, but it's just right for a satisfying dinner out with a friend. Or perhaps a lunch, too, since Farringdon will soon be open at midday.
I'm not sure the gastropub concept really works when you yank it out of England and drop it down in Summerville, S.C. After all, the original idea is to take your local public house and keep the good things — the beer, the convivial atmosphere — and add high-quality but unpretentious food. It seems that the proper way to translate that to the suburban U.S. would be to have a strip mall sports bar with plasma TVs that also cranks out some fantastic meals.
But, that's a philosophical quibble. The Summerville area has long lacked enough options for good dining, but in the past year or two that's slowly started to change. Farringdon Bistropub is another welcome addition to the town's growing dining scene, and if it stays focused on solid, delicious fare like those braised lamb shanks, it should win a few loyalists and become a neighborhood favorite.