Hand-pulled brews

The Allies Pub adds a taste of England to downtown Chico

Pints up on a Saturday afternoon at the pub.

Pints up on a Saturday afternoon at the pub.

photo by wendy stewart

The Allies Pub
434 Broadway St., Ste. 130, 809-1650, britishbulldogbrewery.com
Open Tuesday-Saturday, 2-10 p.m.

When one thinks of a British pub, what might come to mind are pints of beer—proper pints—rowdy conversation, a cozy atmosphere and comfort food. I’m happy to report that I found all that and more at The Allies Pub, smack in the middle of downtown Chico.

First, the space: It’s a converted office building that shares a parking lot with Bank of America but feels quite separate once you enter the expansive patio. The night I went was during the soft opening, so the place was full and everyone was excited. But even empty, there is a relaxed ambiance.

The décor is lively and welcoming, from the homey arm chairs surrounding a faux fireplace to the historical posters that line the walls. In one corner is a large, wrap-around bench with the words “The Snug” prominently displayed above it. That, explained co-owner Alison Kay, is a nod to the private rooms of yesteryear where women could drink out of the public eye.

There are two walk-up windows—one for food orders, the other for drinks. The food menu is simple: apps, pies, pasties, salads, bangers and mash, and desserts (aka “puds”). The drink window is understandably larger, and more formal. As The Allies is the official brewpub of the British Bulldog Brewery—owned by English expats Alison and her husband, Stephen, and their daughter and son-in-law, Emma and Justin Martin—one can guess what’s on tap.

What’s particularly cool about the taps, however, is that they’re traditional British hand pulls that draw the beer up from the cellar below, allowing the brews to be cellar-aged and kept at a warmer temperature than Americans are used to—no frosty glasses here. As Stephen explained, the cellar-aging also makes for less carbonation, as the bubbles are all natural.

Brews and The Fisherman pie.

Photo by Wendy Stewart

In addition to British ales, Allies also serves up house-brewed American-style beers. They’re all named after British and American military terms—Battle of Britain, Trafalgar, Black Hops, Sapper, etc.—lending credence to the pub’s name.

As for the food, it’s truly unique to Chico. My friend Kelly and I settled on three items: the Scotch egg off the “lighter fare” menu, The Cock pastie (pronounced pass-tee, it’s a “traditional pastry filled with meat and vegetables”) and The Fisherman pie.

First off, it was the first time either of us had tried a Scotch egg, and we both gravitated toward it as soon as we saw the menu. It’s a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage and breadcrumbs. (Fun fact: The “Scotch” does not refer to Scotland, but rather to the sausage, which is “scotched,” aka minced.) It was crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, and the drizzled HP Sauce—a brown sauce similar to Worchestershire, but thicker and sweeter—kicks the flavor up a notch.

On to The Cock. This bad boy is essentially a hand pie filled with chicken breast, onion, ginger and coriander in curry sauce. I must’ve overlooked the curry on the menu, because I wasn’t expecting it. The flavors are very Indian, but not at all spicy. Also on the pasties menu: The Bull (ground beef), The Hog (pulled pork) and The Garden (veg).

The Fisherman pie stole the show for me. I simply could not stop digging my spoon in. Akin to a pot pie or shepherd’s pie, this was filled with shrimp, salmon, white fish, peas and carrots in a cream sauce. The menu says it’s topped with mashed potatoes, but it tasted like a pastry top to me, only broiled to a crunchy, almost crouton-like perfection. There were chunks of fish, though the dish wasn’t overpoweringly seafood-y. Creamy, well-balanced, and that crunchy crust just set it over the top.

Of course, we had to try the beer—I had the Signalman (English special bitter ale); Kelly, the Queen Bea (blonde ale)—and we remarked at the smoothness of each. The lower carbonation, combined with the not-so-frigid temperature, make for excellent drinkability. And the slightly warmer temp opens up the beers’ flavors. As we finished our meals, an employee clicked a button to turn on the “street lamps” mounted to the walls. It was a nice touch that added a little more warmth to the place. The room was loud, but we noted that it just felt full of energy—we didn’t have to yell, but we also couldn’t hear the conversation next to us.

I’m excited to see the patio in action—it’s expansive, well-shaded and dog-friendly—and to check the pub out when there’s live music (the first show is scheduled for Oct. 16). What a fun new addition to Chico’s beer, food and bar scenes.