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Blame Canada

A new pub on Westheimer that's lots of firkin fun for the whole firkin family!

I'm not entirely sure why I chose the Firkin & Phoenix for my first encounter with steak-and-kidney pie. Maybe it was because I have been on such an offal spree lately. The sweetbread and tripe tacos at the Tacambaro taco truck bowled me over ("Taco-Truck Gourmet," August 24, 2006), and I fell in love with the brain masala at Indika ("Montrose Vindaloo, October 12, 2006). So I guess I thought I would extend my streak.

Maybe the look of the place motivated my choice of entrée. It doesn't have the classy feel of worn wood and a roaring fireplace like the Black Lab. Neither does it have the wonderfully tacky feel of Pleather upholstery or fake Tudor timbers like the Red Lion. Instead, the red velvet-covered booths, etched-glass room dividers and shiny brass fixtures give it an upscale, shopping-center, franchise feel. Everything else about the place was bland, so how weird could the steak-and-kidney pie be?

The pie was served in an oval dish with a topping of puff pastry. The flaky crust tasted terrific with the brown gravy and overcooked steak chunks. And at first, the roundish bits of kidney seemed quite innocuous. Sure, the texture was a little rubbery, but the flavor wasn't too bad, especially when washed down promptly with a slurp of Boddington's draft ale.

The fish and chips and a Guinness at the Firkin & Phoenix are close to the real British experience.
Troy Fields
The fish and chips and a Guinness at the Firkin & Phoenix are close to the real British experience.

Location Info

Map

The Phoenix on Westheimer

1915 Westheimer
Houston, TX 77098

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Lower Shepherd-Kirby

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

Hot beef sandwich: $8.45

Shepherd's pie: $8.95

Fish and chips: $9.95

Bacon cheeseburger: $8.45

1915 Westheimer, 713-526-3100.

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Then I got a little braver. Fishing around in the gravy, I was shocked at how many large pieces of kidney there actually were. I picked a big piece up with my fork and ate it by itself. It tasted awful. In an effort to describe the flavor accurately, I picked up another big hunk of kidney and held it under my nose. This proved to be my undoing. I couldn't eat another bite.

There is a passage in Ulysses by James Joyce describing Leopold Bloom's love of offal, which includes the line, "Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faint scented urine." Unfortunately, neither my palate nor my nostrils found anything fine about the scent of urine in my steak-and-kidney pie. And there was nothing faint about it, either.

When the waitress stopped by and asked if everything was okay, I told her that the dish wasn't to my liking and that I wanted to order something else. I told her that there was nothing wrong with the way the dish had been prepared and that I wanted to pay full price for it. It was the first time I had eaten steak-and-kidney pie, and now I knew better. I asked her if she ever tried it.

She said that the wait staff had tried each dish on the menu as part of their training, but she had eaten around the kidneys when she got to this one. I speared a kidney chunk on my fork, held it out and encouraged her to take a whiff. I was kind of surprised when she actually did lean over and smell my fork. She nearly gagged.

I got the shepherd's pie instead. It was a bland goo of ground meat in a tomato gravy covered with mashed potatoes. But I ate the whole thing just to get the taste of kidneys out of my mouth.

I would go back to the Firkin franchise for the fish and chips and a Guinness. But there are much better fake British pubs nearby. I think the owner, a Vietnamese-Houstonian named Vu Truong, would have been better off opening this franchise out in the "Energy Corridor," where the pub category isn't so well represented.

My biggest regret about the Firkin experience is that now I have to establish whether I hate steak-and-kidney pie, or if Firkin & Phoenix's was poorly prepared. Which means I am going to have to eat (and smell) some more of it.

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