Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Cheshire Cat: A Diamond in the Rough

Good Evening,

A while ago, in a course I took on beer appreciation, several students - and the teacher - mentioned a pub called The Cheshire Cat, located in an old school house in Carp, Ontario. A pub named after one of the most enigmatic character in Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventure in Wonderland" was certainly intriguing. The recommendation from the beer prof and several of the students was enough to tempt us into driving 23km for dinner and drinks.

When we arrived, it was busy! A busy pub is generally busy for a reason, so this was definitely not disheartening, especially since there was room for two more. The clean, rustic interior is cozy, with its dim (but not too dim) lighting and classic wood furniture providing a welcoming atmosphere, and so do the serving staff. Everyone is very courteous and the service is top notch.
Spearhead Moroccan Brown Ale
at The Cheshire Cat

After our first dinner at "The Cat", we decided that it was definitely not our last. At our second dinner last week, I managed to take a few notes and some photos to provide some insight into the delicious food and drink served at The Cheshire Cat.

Let's start with the beer. On my first trip, I had a pint of "Long Shot White" ale, by Ottawa's own Broad Head Brewery to start, and a Guinness with my Hot Beef & Yorkie Platter (which was delicious!). While I don't have full tasting notes on the Long Shot White, it's officially on my list! The beer was tasty and refreshing, a great precursor to the hearty meal.
On my second date at The Cat, I had Spearhead Brewery's Moroccan Brown Ale. For this beer I did take some notes. On the nose, this brew definitely shows some booze (it weights in at 6.0% ABV), chocolate, molasses, dried stone fruit such as dried plum, fig, or apricot, and raw malts. The flavour mimics the nose, and the finish is pretty short and mainly boozy with some molasses. The beer is smooth and sweet on the palate, which worked well to balance out the salt in my main course: Cottage Pie.
Cottage Pie with seasonal veg. and a side of gravy. The
Splashes of brown are a tasty balsamic-style dressing for the veg.

Now for the food. I had the Cottage Pie, which consists of ground beef mixed with garlic, corn and onions, with a delicious layer of mashed potatoes smothered in cheese, with a side of gravy. The gravy is amazing at this place, let me tell you. This dish comes with seasonal vegetables, in this case carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and parsnip. Let me just say it hit the spot. My girlfriend had the Ploughman's Lunch, and it was pretty amazing. There was chutney, summer sausage, ham, fresh fruit, three different types of bread, several different cheeses, pickled beets and onions, and apple compote. It's listed under starters, but as you can see, it's a serious meal. The food is very well done; it is very well presented and it tastes amazing to boot. I really liked having a side of gravy, rather than having my meal smothered in it. It allowed me to taste everything and add as much, or as little, gravy as I saw fit.

The Ploughman's Lunch. A hearty meal disguised as a starter!
I have been to The Cat three times now, and it just seems to get better every time. The Cheshire Cat hosts "guest taps", which change frequently and feature some very tasty beer. The Spearhead Moroccan Brown, for example, was a guest. The latest guest taps are Great Lakes Brewery's Devil's Pale Ale, and Stiegl's Grapefruit Radler. I had a Devil's Pale Ale to start, while my wonderful girlfriend had a Radler. The Devil's Pale Ale looked much darker on tap than I remember it being in a can, although I haven't had it in a year or so, so it is possible that the recipe has changed. I had a Tetley's with my meal this time, which was the Elk, Ale and Mushroom pie with mashed potatoes. Tetley's cream ale is nothing to write home about, but the food sure is! The Cat uses Kichesippi's 1855 Dark Ale  in their Elk pie, which enhances the gravy's flavour.

Now I come to the "areas of improvement" segment of this post. Really there is only one: the lack of a stout other than Guinness. I do enjoy Guinness, but I think having an alternative would be beneficial, especially to a small place that touts some pretty interesting brews. Mill Street's Cobblestone Stout is very nice - a bit sweeter than Guinness - and tastes great with game meat such as Elk, and I think it would be an excellent pair with the Hot Beef and Yorkie Platter. Food for thought...

The Cheshire Cat is an amazing spot. The friendly atmosphere and great serving staff are outstanding. We were given samplers from the new guest taps when we came in, as we were having trouble deciding which beer to order, and when we inquired about the pumpkins sitting out back, the owner brought one out for us, free of charge. When you throw in some delicious food and beer at a great price, this is a place that's pretty tough to beat. I'll definitely be eating there again (and again...)

The Cheshire Cat is located at 2193 Richardson Side Road, in Carp Ontario. You can call for reservations (and I recommend you do) at (613) 831-2183.

Until next time...
S.B.

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