Are you ready for some football?
Royal Oak Pub & Restaurant9677 Elk Grove-Florin Rd.
Elk Grove, CA 95624
The largest quadrennial obsession on the planet—well, except here in the United States—is upon us, and in self-defense I have become interested in soccer. My husband is currently World Cup-obsessed, and because we lack cable, there is a steady stream of Spanish pouring out of the TV room.
There are better soccer-watching opportunities in the Sacramento area than our fuzzy TV, though, so for a recent noon match we packed up the kid and headed to the commodious, welcoming and extremely football-friendly Royal Oak Pub. Open about a year-and-a-half in Elk Grove, it’s full of English football memorabilia, darts, the usual Guinness posters and so on. (For those who, like me, are a whole different kind of soccer mom, it’s also family-friendly, with plenty of high chairs and booster seats.) Right now, there’s also a huge projection screen for showing World Cup matches, so we settled down in front of it and began to peruse the menu.
The food on offer immediately looked like it might be a cut above the average pub grub, with a long menu of British favorites (bangers and mash, steak and Guinness pie, and the ubiquitous fish and chips), sandwiches (pulled pork, steak and more), salads and appetizers. Most of the latter were the average run of fried bar food, with the exception of the perplexingly named “Piccadilly tacos”; I’m not sure I want to know.
As we tried to decide, a portly gentleman on his way out called to us, “Everything’s very good.” This seemed like a promising recommendation. “Everything?” we asked, whereupon he confessed to being the owner. But, he said, everything is made from scratch, in-house, even the pastry and the daily soups.
We started off with pints—well, a half-pint for me, as it was midday and I was working, or rather “working”—of Blackthorn cider and Smithwick’s brown ale. There’s a creditably long list of draft beers, as you might expect, from lighter American beers to British and Irish ales and stouts.
I was drawn to the more British-sounding choices on the menu and ordered the spicy pasty, which contains pork sausage rather than the usual beef stew and comes with onion gravy and a choice of chips (that is, fries), mashed potatoes or salad. Encouraged by the owner’s reassurance that everything is made from scratch, I went for the mashed potatoes; in a casual pub, one might often assume they would be from a box, but I now hoped they might be real potatoes.
They were, and they were rich and fresh-tasting, complete with bits of red skin. The pasty had a great flavor, the sausage piquant and the pastry well-browned, but the pastry was unfortunately a bit soggy. You could see that it had once been a nice flaky puff-pastry crust, but I figured it must have been microwaved in its recent past—and the microwave spells doom for any crust. The thin brown onion gravy, which became somewhat mucilaginous as it cooled, tasted a bit of the flavor packet; not my favorite type of gravy, to be sure, but I admit that that style is authentically British. (Still, it would have been delicious with a homemade gravy full of caramelized onions.)
For our daughter, who is nearly 1, we ordered the fish and chips (getting a full plate rather than the kids’-menu version, which has fish sticks). I’m not sure why, but there seems to be an enormous number of fish-and-chips places in the Sacramento area. I haven’t had much better fish and chips than the plate at the Royal Oak, though. It boasted crisp, golden, chunky chips and a huge, perfectly cooked piece of haddock coated in a deeply golden-brown, crunchy-fried beer batter. It was the first time our daughter had tasted fish, and she wolfed down the moist and flaky but firm white flesh inside. She also, like most kids, loved the fries, clutching them happily in her little fists and waving them in the air between bites. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the unusual red-cabbage coleslaw alongside, which had a tangy vinegar-based dressing spiked with blue cheese.
My husband ordered a less-British choice, the pulled-pork sandwich, which comes with a layer of the same coleslaw, heaped with sweetish pulled pork on an enormously large roll. Seriously, the thing was a monster, piled high with meat. The pork was pretty tasty, if a little mushily textured in spots, but the sauce could have used a hit of spiciness to balance out the sweetness.
Despite some flaws in execution, the Royal Oak’s heart is in the right place when it comes to its food. British food gets a bad rap, and though some of it is deserved (see above re: packet-mix gravy), a lot of it is not, even leaving aside the current revolution in British cooking. The Brits traditionally didn’t cook haute food, but there’s nothing wrong and a whole lot right with a sausage pie, excellent mashed potatoes and an impeccable piece of fried fish. It also happens to be excellent fare for nursing a pint while watching a World Cup match.