Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - November 19, 2010

Pub grub works with suds

Rose & Crown Pub offers pilsners, ales, lagers ... and serves food, too

by Dale F. Bentson

One of the three corner-mounted television sets at the Rose & Crown Pub was tuned to English rugby. The London Irish and the Ospreys were mashing it out on the pitch, elbow to elbow, noggin to noggin. I shuddered and gulped my schooner of Pliny the Elder Russian River Ale.

The other TVs were tuned to the Premiere League and other European football venues, and there was no shortage of piped-in action. On weekends, the TVs compete with the jukebox and the general din in the tight-squeeze pub. It's elbow to elbow, noggin to noggin, without the attendant bruises.

This is Beer Central. I suppose every college town from Palo Alto to Portsmouth has a beer galley similar to the Rose & Crown Pub; some are a little classier, some not. Rose & Crown Pub is short on aesthetics but long on what counts most to its clientele: an endless variety and quantity of suds.

Owners (and married couple) Kasim and Guldem Syed bought the 30-year-old business four years ago. Kasim Syed, a real estate agent by profession, worked part time at the pub for several years and leapt at the chance to buy the saloon in 2006.

"I didn't change much but increased the emphasis on local and handcrafted beers and specialty imports on draft," he said. "At any given moment, we offer 75 to 100 bottled beers, about 25 on draft, and a few hand-pump, non-carbonated ales."

Syed also owns the Palo Alto Brewing Company and serves his own, goes-down-easy Hoppy Ending Pale Ale ($5 for 16 ounces on tap).

Rose & Crown offers additional fun and games to keep its youthful habitues engaged. Tuesday is trivia night and, according to Syed, the place is packed a half-hour before the 8 p.m. start.

Brewery nights on the last Wednesday of each month are also popular, featuring eight to 15 beers from specialty brewers that are not generally offered through regular retail outlets.

Decor-wise, Rose & Crown won't be featured in Architectural Digest any time soon. It is about as basic as it gets: a wood bar, several stiff wooden tables and chairs, a couple of picnic benches outside the entrance. The lighting is mercifully dim.

The walls are festooned with freebies donated by breweries. The mirrors and menu boards were gifts from Stella Artois and Murphy's Stout, and much of the glassware is from Deschutes, with bar coasters provided by Firestone Walker Brewing, condiment tray by Duvel, and bar bumpers courtesy of Spaten. Even the dartboards were compliments of Budweiser. Cash, it was determined long ago, was best spent on product.

These days, I am more of a Sangiovese sipper than beer aficionado, but, long ago, at a faraway university, I sipped my fair share. Nonetheless, it's been a while and I was fascinated by the breadth and quality of the brewer's art now available. I enjoyed all the chilled frothy nectars I sampled, and the bartenders provided invaluable help with my selections.

The brands themselves are an entertaining read: Old Viscosity, Damnation Ale, Arrogant Bastard, Full Sail Sanctuary, Temptation Ale, Kwak, Goose Island Matilda. Old Speckled Hen and Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere.

Rose & Crown isn't a fine-dining establishment but does provide bar food, most of it fried, that complements the refreshments. During my recent visits, fish and chips came with a choice of one, two or three pieces ($9.95-$13.95) of perfectly fried, golden, Icelandic cod. The cod was steamy-hot, flaky, tender and flavorful. The fries were hand-cut and crisp and the tartar sauce, happily, wasn't overly sweet. A perfect Guinness beer batter coated all deep-fried morsels.

The prawns and chips ($11.95) were also noteworthy. About a quarter-pound of fleshy fried prawns sat atop a pile of sizzling fries, finger food that I had to let cool down a bit before diving into.

Cheeseburgers were plenty good, too, and pleasingly priced at $8.95 with a choice of Stilton, Farmhouse cheddar or Cheshire cheeses. The bun was fresh, soft and warm, and the fries were tasty.

The grilled chicken sandwich ($8.95) was tender enough but had been overly marinated and tasted more like a dried-herb sandwich than the chicken breast it was. The flavorful watercress mayonnaise exacerbated the problem, although the toasted roll and slew of condiments helped. The "small" side of fries ($2.95) was more than enough.

Most of the appetizers were as big as main courses. The Rose & Crown rarebit ($7.25) was a bowl of melted cheeses, tamely spiced and served with a quarter-loaf of toasted sliced baguette. A heavier sprinkling of cayenne would have livened this dish and given it some needed pizzazz.

Samosas ($6.95) were deep-fried bite-sized triangles of phyllo dough wrapped around mushrooms, spinach and other vegetables. It was just the right amount of appetizer. The dab of house-made chutney that accompanied, though, consisted of one chunk of mango and not much else. It was impossible to cut, spread or dip onto the samosas, making it almost a non-accompaniment.

Rose & Crown offers a pub salad of mixed greens, a Caesar salad and a veggie burger for those counting food calories but discounting the ale calories. More traditional English fare can be had with the Ploughman's lunch, bangers and mash, and the Shepherd's pie. In all, it is a suitable Palo Alto version of a solid working-class English pub.

There are no desserts at Rose & Crown; probably a good idea not to add a layer of sweetness atop flagons of beer.

One cautionary note: The men's restroom has a stench that could seriously disturb normal appetites. It wasn't that the room was untidy; it was just sour from nearly 30 years of beer-fueled use. I made my observation just before noon one day when the room had seen little use. Travel at your own risk.

Rose & Crown Pub has been a fixture for three decades tucked off Emerson Street adjacent to a city parking lot. The location is no secret to its large clientele, though. The food is pub-worthy; the suds are endless.

Rose & Crown

547 Emerson St., Palo Alto

650-327-7673

www.RoseandCrownPA.com

Kitchen hours: Weekdays 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Sat.-Sun. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

Reservations: no

Credit cards: yes

Parking: city lots

Alcohol: beer and wine

Children: no

Catering: no

Takeout: yes

Outdoor dining: yes

Party facilities: yes

Noise level: loud

Bathroom cleanliness: poor

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