417 Ann St. • Lake Charles • 337-433-5992
The Local Grubscape • By Justin Morris
It’s been eight long years ago now since things started turning Celtic in downtown Lake Charles. July 12, 2010, saw the arrival of MacFarlane’s Celtic Pub in what was long ago known as the Kelly Weber Building. Since then, the British, Irish, Scottish and otherwise Celtic-themed pub has served up truckloads of beer and whiskey to the imbibers of the Lake City on St. Patrick’s Day and the other 364 days of the year.
However, a big part of proper pub life is the food — something that tends to differentiate a “bar” from a “pub.” MacFarlane’s offers up a full-sized menu along with the 140-plus beers and the vast assortment of Scotch and Irish Whiskeys. The menu is broad enough and deep enough to pad out your stomach for the bevy of libations that could very easily follow.
Now, I will admit to having been a veritable part of the furniture over there in its earliest of days. But I’ve only visited a handful of times in the last few years. I figured it was time to change that and see just what kind of role MacFarlane’s is playing in the “local grubscape” today, just a couple of days after their eighth anniversary.
It was a sultry Saturday afternoon when I pulled up to the building housing both the Pub and owner Jimmy Bittner’s other venture The Brick House, an event space and catering operation that sprang up after the short-lived run of the bar and entertainment venue that originally bore the Brick House name.
I was tempted to perch outside on the comfy patio, but the shade wasn’t enough to curb the ferocious SWLA summer heat, so I wandered inside.
For those who haven’t been in, you will feel as if you have been instantly transported across the Atlantic and quite possibly a few decades back in time. Warm, red paint and wood cover the space, while the walls are festooned with maps of the seven Celtic nations, Celtic family crests and all the various and sundry adornments that imply “pub.”
I took a seat at the bar and was promptly greeted by Sierra, a quiet but polite and attentive server who got me started with a draft pint of Grimbergen, a Belgian Trappist ale that I haven’t had anywhere in a number of years, much less on tap. I began to sip my malty and thick “monk beer” while I looked over the menu.
It had changed quite a bit since I had been in last. It now features bigger items that certainly seem a bit more American style than true pub fare, with the new menu items including Ultimate Pub Fries, the Big ASS Burger, the Dublin Shrimp Po-Boy, the massive Loch Ness Monster seafood platter, the 32 oz. Tomahawk Steak and the ungodly MacFarlane’s Challenge Burger (which requires 24 hours’ notice, should you want to give the challenge a shot). While all incredibly large dishes and pretty interesting across the board, I wanted something more traditional and preferably not falling in the $21 to $69 price range. So I opted for just about the most traditional of pub fare one can manage: good old-fashioned Fish and Chips.
So … let’s talk about Fish and Chips for a minute. The ultimate British street food, Fish and Chips is just as British as PG Tips black tea, HP Brown Sauce, Jaffa Cakes or (my beloved) Branston Pickle. And while the dish is served in a vast number of pubs, it is more traditionally served at one of the “Chip Shops” or “Chip Carts/Trucks” that dot the British landscape.
A proper order of “Chips,” as they are typically called, is planks of fried cod and big beefy French fries, typically slathered in salt and malt vinegar. From one who knows, there is nothing quite like the dining experience you can enjoy when you have a fresh batch of Fish and Chips straight from the chip cart served up wrapped in newspaper with the little wooden fork stuck in the middle of the pile. It really can be a life-changing experience.
But I digress. I ordered up this staple of British cuisine and was aware of one little issue that I had hoped would rectify itself over the years. Yes … I know the menu says Fish and Chips, but the problem lies in the fact that when you order it at MacFarlane’s, you get fish … and chips. Not fries. Chips; thin, crusty fried potato wafers whose malt vinegar absorption capabilities are at about a 1 on the 100-point scale. They’re not awful; do not get me wrong. But in the “Fish and Chips” sensibility, they’re simply not right, and they’re not what anyone who has had proper chips wants nor are they what anyone who has never had proper fish and chips would prefer, given the option. This could lead many a chips fan to disappointment, should they not know that this is how they are served in this venue. Lucky for me, I was aware and made sure to specify that I wanted no chips but fries instead, along with an order of Colcannon, a spectacular Irish mashed potato with kale, bacon cream, and seasoning that is a must-have here.
Aside from my semantical issues, the food itself was quite fine, and in a bite or two, I almost felt that I was standing next to the Chip Cart in Diss, Norfolk, England again after all these years. The fries soaked up all the vinegar they could, and the fish was as white as the driven snow. The fish bore a light and crispy beer breading that was fried to a perfect golden brown. Nearly drunk on the pungent smell of malt vinegar, I gobbled it up, barely leaving a crumb.
I’m not one to do desserts, usually. But here, I always made an exception. Easily one of my favorite sweet treats in the Lake City was the Irish Chocolate Pot: a chilled, thick custard with a hard chocolate shell, topped with sugar and then torched. This was decadence of a whole new level. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be on the menu anymore, and that did make my soul sad. However, still holding strong in dessert land is the Drunken Irish Bread Pudding: a thick, hearty lump of bready sweetness all a bathe in an Irish whiskey-based cream sauce. It was such a dense bread pudding that it could probably pass for lunch all on its own. While it’s not quite the magic of ye olde chocolate pot, it’s a pretty remarkable variation on the theme and one of my favorite variations by far. If the fish and chips hadn’t filled me up enough, this certainly finished the task and I decided that it was time to call this culinary adventure quits for the day.
Now, I certainly can’t criticize a restaurant for changing over time. It’s inevitable as the customer base develops and grows. I do find it interesting to look at those changes. MacFarlane’s may have spread their wings a little, but they still have a feel, a character and an atmosphere all their own. If you’re hungry, you’ll eat, and you will eat well. And if you’re thirsty, well … you may want to have Lyft on standby, because they have enough to slake a thousand thirsts.
Either way, a trip up to Pine Street might be well in order if you haven’t bothered to take one yet. If you have and haven’t been for a while, you may find yourself as pleased as I was to be back in me favorite lil’ local pub.