For one month in the summer of 2014, America became entranced with the sport it has so often relegated to youth leagues. Both die-hard soccer enthusiasts and fair-weather fans gathered in public spaces to cheer teams from around the world as the tournament progressed towards Germany’s victory over Argentina. While the crowds were found all over town, one of the biggest concentrations of soccer viewers assembled in front of giant screens placed on the patios outside the Rose and Crown, a British pub in heart of Downtown Phoenix’s Heritage Square.
Of course, the World Cup comes only once every four years, so the packed soccer parties hosted by the pub were not necessarily typical of the everyday scene at the Rose and Crown. On a more typical day, the pub is a convivial third space a few blocks from the Third Street light rail stations. The building is the Silva house, a Victorian dwelling built at the turn of the last century. It has previously been home to more upscale tenants, Ruby Beet Gourmet and Circa 1900, both noble ventures that failed before the Rose and Crown succeeded with a more modest agenda.
The historic structure lends itself to a classic pub layout of myriad small rooms rather than one expansive dining hall. There’s a foyer, but rather than waiting there, most customers just proceed to a preferred table or bar counter. All the rooms are filled with images of British icons from the Clash to Winston Churchill, but beyond the Britannia theme, each room has a distinctive personality. One is centered around a pool table, another has larger tables for groups and family dining, one has a quiet atmosphere, and one is filled with board games for all ages.
Any British pub should offer fish and chips, and the Rose and Crown serves two hearty pieces of beer-battered cod with thickly cut fries. So far, so good, but what’s really distinctive here is the tartar sauce. The often prosaic condiment that Montgomery Burns of the Simpsons once ridiculed as “tar-tar sauce” is given more attention than usual here, with big pieces of pickle throughout the white mayonnaise base. Think of it as a chunky salsa for fried fish. The accompanying coleslaw isn’t bad either. Want fish and chips in a smaller quantity? The pub plate combines a half serving with a cup of clam chowder.
The thick soup is a nice, thick chowder laden with discernible bits of clam and copious chunks of potato. Other soups include ale and leek, an adaption of the classic French onion soup from across the channel; mulligatawny, a mild and creamy colonial curry with cubes of chicken and potatoes; and a serviceable version of all-American ground beef chili. These can all be ordered by the cup or bowl or as part of a soup-and-salad combination. Salads are generally not high on the pub grub priority list, but the trio offered at the Rose and Crown are sufficient to serve as entrees in their full-sized versions.
The Caesar is exactly as expected with abundant romaine, croutons, and parmesan. The Harvest Salad is a spring mix that wins points for including Crow’s goat cheese, but falters with an excessively sweet raspberry vinaigrette. This is one time to be thankful for dressing on the side, and the malt vinegar at the table is a better way to accessorize the greens. The BLT salad is the most inventive with its leaves of butter lettuce topped not only with bacon and tomato, but also wedges of avocado and pieces of goat milk feta, once again from local favorite Crow’s Dairy.
Other pub grub choices include bangers and mash, the classic combination of sausage and potatoes; shepherd’s pie with braised beef under a layer of mashed potatoes; salmon with an appealing bourbon and brown sugar seasoning; and a “fish pie,” which is really a bowl of creamy fish stew with potatoes and bread on the side. There’s not a lot of greenery listed on the menu here, but most entrees come with a vegetable side, most often asparagus. Unsurprisingly, there are bar staples such as hamburgers, a Reuben sandwich, and grilled cheese available with a choice of side.
No dessert is listed on the menu, and it’s unlikely that anyone would have room for “pudding,” as it would be called in the U.K., after a pub meal. Any extra calories are more likely to come from the selection of beers on tap. In fact, the beer lineup is likely to be the first thing customers see upon entry. All the usual suspects are here: Guinness, Fuller’s, and Bass are among the British brews. There are also rotating seasonal selections like Lumberjack IPA from Flagstaff and Bell’s Double Cream, a smooth stout. Wine and cocktails are also available, although this pub is clearly oriented toward beer drinkers.
The service here is definitely pub-like in terms of its casualness and the need for a bit of a self-help approach. The bar in the house’s foyer serves as a sort of de facto host station. It’s the best place to check in and make one’s presence known to the staff before taking a seat in one of the rooms or on the patio. Still, don’t expect to be led to a table and don’t be surprised if it’s necessary to head back to the bar to pay the tab at the end of the meal. On the other hand, you may find more than one employee checking on each table as part of a team approach to service.
With soccer fans no longer gathering in massive numbers, the Rose and Crown has returned to its comfortable, casual role as a key contributor to a slowly emerging pub culture in Downtown Phoenix. Some optimists think that the 2014 World Cup will prove a tipping point in the development of soccer culture in the United States. Cynics will say that now Americans can go back to ignoring the sport for another four years. The truth is probably somewhere in between, but regardless of what happens on the playing field, the Rose and Crown scores plenty of goals of its own.
628 E. Adams St., Phoenix AZ 85004
Third Street / Washington (westbound) and Third Street / Jefferson (eastbound) stations