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Burger and a Boddingtons

The Dynamo Reuben is a triple-decker.
Troy Fields

I couldn't help but notice how many of the restaurants at Houston Pavilions were big chains: House of Blues, the McCormick & Schmick's and Mia Bella. Polk Street Pub might be one of the few places in the Pavilions that's not a chain. I sat down at the bar with a friend and ordered a pint of Boddingtons, then asked the woman behind the bar for a menu so I could order some grub. She informed me that the kitchen was closed for an hour, and in fact, the chef wasn't even in the restaurant. We decided to just sit at the bar and drink beer till service started.

In the meantime, we looked at the menu, planning our course of action. The first item in the "Pre Game Warm Ups" section was Louisiana Shrimp. I wondered if they were going to have to change that. Maybe they should change the name to Chinese Shrimp, because it won't be long before there isn't any Louisiana shrimp for anybody.

I took a big pull of my Boddingtons, relieved that the tap lines at PSP weren't funky. There is nothing worse than tasting that slimy scum from tap lines that are never cleaned or, even worse, lines that have just been cleaned — you can taste the soap. Every time the bartender brought me a Boddingtons, the head on it was perfect. The milky-white foam cascaded into full-flavored wonderfulness.

I asked our server what would be the easiest and quickest app to get when the kitchen reopened. She said the hummus was really quick and easy, but they were out of pita chips. Since the chef was out, I guessed he must be picking some up. My friend asked the bartender what she recommended on the menu, and she suggested the Wild West Salad — except they were out of black beans. Well, you can't have a Wild West Salad without black beans.

We ordered some chicken wings with a sweet and spicy sauce and the Downtown Crab Cakes to start. Our server told us that the only sauce that wasn't made in-house was the buffalo sauce. When our wings came out, they were lightly coated with the sweet and spicy sauce. After a few bites, we both agreed they were delicious, but I think they could have used a little more of the sauce, which looked and tasted just like Thai sweet chile sauce. You can buy Thai sweet chile sauce anywhere, and it tastes amazing on ribs, beef satay and especially chicken wings. If PSP's kitchen is making its own version, that would be awesome.

The crab cakes came out next. Breaded in panko, they were a dark, crispy brown. Unfortunately, they suffered the fate of many crab cakes — too much cake and not enough crab. When I bite into a crab cake, all I want is large lumps of crab. PSP's were not crabby enough, and there was too much cumin in them.

For my entrée, I opted for the Dynamo Reuben, which turned out to be a triple-decker. The bread was wonderfully toasted and buttery. There was just enough sauerkraut and corned beef between the layers of rye, and every bite was filled with rich, salty meat and crunchy kraut. The sweet potato waffle fries here were nice and crispy. My partner had to agree that they were fantastic.

My companion's Preston Pear Salad contained gorgonzola, pears and a balsamic gastrique. A gastrique is made by reducing vinegar and adding sugar to create a sour, caramel-like sauce. This combination is classic, and all the flavors played off each other. The creamy, salty, pungent blue cheese was cut by the fresh fruit, and the sweet and sour balsamic finished it off.
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A pub — short for public house — is really just an English name for a bar, usually a ­working-class bar that serves beer from a local brewery. But pubs have come a long way in the last 20 years or so, and the word itself has become trendy, with all the gastropubs popping up and people partaking in "pub crawls."

Polk Street Pub is all polished concrete, dark woods, modern booths and tall ceilings. It's chic, and it's far from working class. The target market is downtown cubicle rats and the large crowds from the Toyota Center, Minute Maid Park and the GRB. Downtown's transformation is nearly complete with the addition of the Pavilions. Where there were once crackhead vacant lots, now there are tourist attractions.

I started a late lunch at the bar of PSP with an industry friend, drinking pints and waiting for the kitchen to reopen. We ordered the Louisiana Shrimp with ginger aioli. The shrimp were butterflied, breaded and fried to a golden brown. They were served on a rectangular white plate, with each one sitting on a dollop of sauce and some shredded carrots in between in tight little rows. Very nouvelle.

A pub that can't make a decent burger shouldn't exist. PSP serves what it calls the Black Jack Burger. I gather they call it that because they use Black Angus beef and jack cheese. Cheesy! But the burger was tasty. I really liked the candied jalapeños it came with. I picked one out and tasted it by itself. It had a maple flavor that led me to think maybe the kitchen cook chopped fresh — not pickled — jalapeños in maple syrup to candy them. They complemented the bacon and cheese on the burger well.

This time I tried the "pub" fries, and I'm glad I did. They went well with the burger, and they were unbelievably delicious. I asked our server if the pub fries and the sweet potato waffle fries were made in-house. She claimed both were made on the premises. I have spent the better part of 20 years standing next to a fryer. I have worked in bistros where we made our own fries, and I have opened up a bag of just about every type of frozen potato you can buy. If these pub fries are from an original recipe made in the kitchen daily, then they are the best fries I have ever had. They were light, kinda battered but not entirely coated. Extra crispy and seasoned, they were beyond golden, and evenly fried without being oily.

I told my bar mate that if they are making everything from scratch here, this just might be the best pub grub in Houston. And if the staff is just saying yes because they're misinformed or being deceitful, the food is still pretty damn good.

I took a bite of my mate's Pub Club with smoked turkey, bacon and brie. It was a fine club — brie just goes so well with turkey — but I preferred my burger. PSP has brought uptown pub grub to downtown, with well-executed food and a decent line of beers on tap. I would venture to call it a "gastropub," if I was sure what that word meant.


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