Wednesday, November 19, 2008


127 Calhoun St
Clifton 45219

I met up with fellow food-bloggers Liz (Get in Mah Belly) and Heather (Food Hussy)at Floyd’s in Clifton for a fun evening of food and laughter, both of which we had in abundance. I hadn’t been to Floyd’s in donkey’s yonks, but the food is still as good as it was all those years ago, and the prices still seem locked somewhere in the mid-1990s, making it a very affordable place to try lots and lots of dishes, which we did.

The restaurant is unassuming from the street and is fairly basic inside, with formica tables and sparse décor. They do not serve alcohol but are quite happy to let you bring your own, which the table near us had done. Their hours are somewhat weird: open Tues-Fri from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. but closed between 2:30-5 p.m. each day, and Saturday from 5-9:30 p.m. They are closed on Sundays and Mondays.

Mediterranean fare is always very veggie-friendly, and Floyd’s takes good care of their vegetarian customers with a large number of non-meat dishes and sides. All ten of their side dishes are vegetarian, and they offer musakaa (baked eggplant with rice), spanaopita (spinach and feta pie), and stuffed green peppers as main entrées. You will also find vegetarian lentil soup and a falafel sandwich on the menu.

Red bell peppers stuffed with basmati rice and spices

Everything is made fresh daily and when they run out, that’s it for the day. I really wanted to try their falafel sandwich, but the popular dish had already sold out. Boo! Instead, I opted for the stuffed peppers and a variety of sides, which included a Greek salad, pickled vegetables and lima beans, which I had been told were something of a specialty. My mother would be very surprised to learn that I had not only ordered lima beans, but had eaten every bite and contemplated ordering another lot. Prepared with garlic, lemon, olive oil and parsley, they were deliciously comforting and a far cry from the southern-style “butter beans” my mom tried to force on me as a kid. Floyd’s has made me reconsider the lima bean in a completely new, yummy light.

Sides: Lima beans, tabouli, pickled veggies and hummus

By far my favorite side dish of the evening was the pickled veggies. It is a restaurant specialty and the beets, garlic, carrots and cauliflower were crunchy with a pleasantly puckering tang. I’d order it again in a heartbeat.

We all sampled each other’s dishes (except of course I didn’t try their much-raved about half chicken – which needs to be ordered several hours in advance) and I have to say that the tabouli Liz ordered was some of the best I think I’ve ever tried – heavy on the parsley and onion, with bright hints of lemon. The homemade hummus and freshly baked pita bread were good too – the hummus creamy and simple, with a puddle of olive oil in the middle, and the bread fluffy yet firm. YUM.

Of course we did dessert – Liz and I both ordered the pistachio baklava, while Heather got the Lebanese pancakes. We felt the baklava was a bit too dry, but oh those pancakes! Stuffed with crème fraiche and pistachios and swimming in simple syrup, they were just sweet enough without being sickly so.

pistachio baklava
Lebanese pancakes - so very, very good!

Floyd’s is obviously doing it right or they wouldn’t be such a Clifton mainstay, but I would like to offer them one little suggestion – offer a sampler platter! I calculated up what it would cost me to order each of their side dishes and that is the only thing that prevented me from splurging on one of everything. Seriously – I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to also try their baba ganouje, dolma vines and green beans, but I guess that’s what next times are for.
Floyd's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Vacation! The Black Boy Pub

The Black Boy Pub
1 Wharf Hill
Winchester, Hampshire

Just off Chesil Street in the lovely historic city of Winchester there is a very unique, traditional free house called The Black Boy that, although a little out of the way from the pedestrian shopping district, is well worth a visit. Originally built in the early 1800’s, the pub has seen many additions over the years, giving it a higgledy-piggledy rabbit warren feel. Each room and corridor is on a slightly different level, so that one must take care when moving from one room to the next. Step up to go from the bar to the dining room on the left, then two steps down for the narrow corridor housing the loos. Some rooms are windowless and dimly lit - great for boozing - while others are bright and cheery with a bank of windows and walls of books. A warm fire beckons on chilly days and a table laden with newspapers keeps you up to date on current events.

Free houses in England are becoming quite rare, as most pubs these days are tied to large breweries and even larger food, hotel and property chains. A free house is a pub that is free of the control of any one particular brewery, but a shingle hanging in front of the pub proclaiming “free house” does not necessarily mean that the pub is independent or a guarantee of quality. So to stumble upon a truly free house (independently owned and operated) is cause for great rejoicing. The Black Boy is a truly free house. Queue the Snoopy-happy dance.

Owned by a languid, mischievous chap named David, whose independent spirit and whimsical taste is evident wherever one looks, the pub is a wonderfully peculiar place to quaff a few pints on a drizzly autumn day. We were certainly not alone – the pub attracts a wide ranging clientele, from office workers, farmers, and students, to professional barflies and several of man’s best friends. I was excited to see the range of real ales on tap and made a mental note to thank our friends Pete and Caroline for recommending the pub to us. Thanks P&C!!

There is plenty to look at in the Black Boy. Taxidermy seems to be a specialty, with dogs, alligators, pheasants…even a little burro stands nearby, as if waiting for someone to put a pack on his back and lead him away. Steve thought there was a grey cat sleeping on one of the many leather sofas, only to go up to give it a stroke and discover that it was instead a stuffed stoat, curled up as if happily napping. It can be a little unsettling. Pete, who has spent many a night at the pub (it was his local as a university student), said that the critters are always being moved around by the staff, and after a few beers one’s perception of reality becomes quite bent.

Hee haw, hee haw!

Is it a kitty? No! It's a stuffed stoat!

Good luck locating the bathrooms. The doors masquerade as bookshelves, so first-timers may find themselves groping their way along the dark wall to find it. I felt like Nancy Drew searching for a secret passage. Once inside, ladies should avoid looking at the ceiling; dozens of gynecological implements hang from wires overhead. Best not to think too hard about it and get out quickly.

I told you not to look up!

Snip snip snip

Everywhere you look there is something new and different: Odd signs tout the benefits of teeth extraction or warn of dangerous bridges; creepy paintings and fake cuts of meat hang from the walls; children’s school chairs are twinned with regular-sized tables for an off-kilter dining experience; game boards have been turned into dining tables and there’s an old-school video game table with classics like Space Invaders. Look up – there’s a miniature German fighter plane from World War II, hundreds of old fashioned keys, and an impressive collection of gentlemen’s smoking pipes. One wall is lined with old fire buckets, while faucets and taps jut from window sills and various nooks and crannies. Hang on, is that a stuffed bear? Look at the tiny piano! Oh my gosh, I wonder if that Aga stove still works? Where do you suppose they got all those safes? Did I just see a baboon wearing a kilt?

Why yes, I do believe I did see a baboon wearing a kilt

There he is again, beneath a wall of fire buckets

Now the food at The Black Boy is traditional English fare like cod & chips and toad in the hole (sausages wrapped in bacon and baked in a soufflé), but they also offer a small selection of cold sandwiches and a few hot specials, which include several veggie options. I waffled between the penne pasta with mushroom sauce and the goat cheese tart, with the latter winning out. It was decent but not something I would order again – the tart reminded me of a slice of pizza topped with red bell pepper, mushroom, corgettes, onions and parsley with a thick helping of goat cheese plopped on top. The cheese really overpowered the rest of the ingredients and I ended up removing two-thirds of it. The tart came with a rather tired salad of romaine, cucumber and tomato. Steve thought the burger he ordered was tasty but a bit pricey at £8.50. I think the next time we visit (and there will definitely be a next time – Pete, the first round is on me) I’ll try one of their vegetarian cold sandwiches instead.

The Goat Cheese Tart

The beer on the other hand more than made up for the so-so food. I chose the Itchen Valley Pure Gold, an award-winning blonde ale with a sweet, malty flavor, brewed in the heart of Hampshire at New Alresford. With a bitter bite and a smooth, sweet finish, it was absolutely delicious. The pub serves only locally brewed ales, normally from the Ringwood Brewery, Triple FFF Brewery, The Hampshire Brewery and the previously mentioned Itchen Valley Brewery. It is no wonder that everyone seems to refer to The Black Boy as a “traditional backstreet boozer.” It is, and marvelously so.

A few more photos to cap things off:

The AGA sits beneath colorful sewing bobbins

An inviting room - check out the row of faucets on the window sill

Hundreds of keys dangle from the rustic rafters

The Black Boy is, in my humble opinion, the best boozer in all of Hampshire. Go for the beer, stay for the fun!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Vacation! The King Rufus

King Rufus
135 Winchester Road
Chandler's Ford, Hampshire

Historically named after King William II (called Rufus due to his red complexion), whose body was brought through the lovely village of Chandler's Ford enroute from Southampton to Winchester after he was killed in a hunting accident in 1100 A.D., the King Rufus is an old world style pub with two wood-burning fireplaces and a homey atmosphere.

The inviting front door of the pub

The selection of draught beer and real ale at the Rufus is fairly basic - the pub is affiliated with Greene King IPA and also carries two other real ales: Old Speckled Hen and local-ish brewer Ringwood Best. Then it's your basic pub draughts like Stella, Carling, Guinness, Fosters, IPA Chilled and Strongbow Cider. I was surprised to see that they have also recently begun serving up Pivovary Staropramen on draught! It's a very smooth Czech pilsner that I fell head over heels for when we visited Prague last year, and which tastes much better on tap than from a bottle. The pub also serves a varied selection of liquor and wine, including the yummy Pimms #1 Cup.

Hey, look at the special! PIMMS!!

As I rarely turn down an opportunity to have a Ploughman's Lunch, when I saw it listed on the menu it was a no-brainer. Interestingly, when the meal turned up I noticed what looked like a piece of paper baked into the crust of the baguette. I made mention of it to the server, who informed me that the bakery they use is a certified organic baker and the "paper" I found on my bread was actually an edible sugar-stamp applied to the bread to indicate that it has been baked with the highest and strictest organic standard in the U.K. The local baker for the King Rufus's bread is Eleanor at the Deverill Trout Farm in Wiltshire.

Yummy Ploughman's Lunch

The Soil Association Organic Standard sugar-stamp, signifying that the bread is organic

The Ploughman's was perfect: thick wedges of locally sourced cheddar cheese, a simple salad mix, tangy apple chutney, tart pickled onions, a red ripe apple and warm, melt-in-your-mouth, freshly baked organic bread. YUM. It is much more filling than you would expect.

Even though my husband and I sold our nearby 1880's farm-worker's cottage a few years ago, we still consider the King Rufus to be our local pub whenever we return to England to visit friends and relatives. It's large but manages to retain a cozy feel with the help of two massive fireplaces and an assortment of rustic tables and plush leather sofas. It's a nice place to meet up with friends for a pint and a chinwag, which is what we ended up doing a few nights later.

Since we had already eaten a very substantial Sunday lunch prepared by my father-in-law, we weren't very hungry when we met up with the gang at the Rufus that evening, so we opted for a cheese board to nibble on while we were mingling.

Fresh Camembert, extra-mature Devon Cheddar, and Tuxford & Tebbutt Shropshire Blue with an assortment of biscuits and chutney.

The King Rufus has an interesting selection of veggie options to choose from - there's mushroom and goat cheese salad; wild mushroom lasagne; sweet potato, chick pea & spinach curry over basmati and wild rice; baked mushroom & creme fraiche tart with lamb's lettuce; several types of jacket potato, a mushroom-veggie wrap and the awesome Ploughman's.

It's a nice neighborhood pub made even better by the fine selection of vegetarian meals available. Highly recommended.