A spicy playfulness
Stirling Bridges Restaurant and Pub
Stirling Bridges Restaurant & Pub5220 Manzanita Ave.
Carmichael, CA 95608
Stirling Bridges Restaurant and Pub brings in a family-restaurant type of crowd. The British- and Scottish-themed eatery, which opened several months ago, offers an adequate beer selection, modern décor and an extensive menu with more than just standard deep-fried pub fare. Perhaps due to its location inside the building that formerly housed Brother Oliver’s Fare & Spirit from 1980 to 2008 (the new owners keep a Brother Oliver’s plaque inside), the restaurant attracts an older crowd, in addition to the younger crowd one would expect at a pub.
From the outside, the building exterior is styled with Tudor architecture, but the inside is open and modern. A floor-to-ceiling bar located in the middle of the building dispenses draft beer (copious British selections and a few crafts from the United States), and bartenders serve playfully named drinks (Mick Jagger, 007 Martini, The Sherlock Milagro). And although the restaurant teems with patrons, there’s an attentive staff and never much of a wait.
On my first visit, my dining partner and I ordered Irish onion soup, Prince Edward Island mussels and the house-made veggie burger. Each dish impressed, starting with the soup, which is basically the same as French onion soup, but with added Irish whiskey and Guinness thrown in to give it extra pizzazz. The mussels are served in a green curry sauce, an inventive take on standard steamed mussels found in pubs. Unfortunately, the accompanying baguette slices were stale. The house-made veggie burger, however, featured one of the tastiest black-bean patties I’ve ever had, and the Asian peanut-sauce coleslaw paired well as a tangy and crunchy side.
Upon another visit, I sampled a baby-kale Caesar salad and bacon-cheeseburger sliders, which were a special that day. The salad tasted classy with the baby kale offering a subtle bitterness not usually found in standard Caesars. The sliders were perfectly cooked and seasoned, but its buns didn’t impress: They were neither sweet nor eggy or otherwise notable—just regular, forgettable buns. Nevertheless, after a pint of Hangar 24 Craft Brewery’s Orange Wheat beer, I wished I had a couple more sliders.
For my last visit, I came prepared with a group of diners, and we ordered a larger sampling of dishes: fish and chips, steak-and-mushroom pie, Wexford steak, and the most unusual dish on the menu, the Scottish Mafia Pizza—topped with turkey pastrami, potatoes, cabbage and Swiss cheese.
Stirling’s fish and chips tasted authentic—breaded and fried cod served with house-made fries and tartar sauce. They were good, but a wee plain and required both vinegar and Tabasco sauce. The steak-and-mushroom pie is like a gourmet version of a chicken pot pie—a stew spiced with what seemed like whiskey and pepper, all cooked in a casserole dish and topped with pastry crust. It came with the vegetable of the evening, Brussels sprouts, which went well with the hearty pie. It was the standout dish of the night.
The Wexford steak, on the other hand, wasn’t particularly inspired. It was a plain steak, with some mashed potatoes and a Guinness-based gravy—something you’d imagine being served at an American diner. Also, despite its uniqueness, the Scottish Mafia Pizza fell short with its too many flat flavors—turkey, potato, cabbage, Swiss cheese—to actually benefit from their unusual pairing. Thankfully, there was that Tabasco sauce on the table.
Stirling Bridges Restaurant and Pub seems to be filling a void left by Brother Oliver’s 2008 closure. Families gather for meals, elderly couples come on dates, and younger 20-somethings come en masse to watch football games, drink, and play pool and darts. Its diverse menu reflects not only the traditional “plain and robust” ethos of British food, but also the spicy playfulness of a modern gastropub.