Lives there a soul so dead as to say no to a hot, freshly-fried potato chip? Particularly when it's accompanied by a glass of an appropriate chilled beverage, be it beer, sparkling wine or even a diet Dr. Pepper? There's something particularly addictive about them, and a heaping basket, all golden-brown and crisp at the edges, accompanied by a drink of choice is impossible to resist for many folks—including us. And we're especially fond of those at Dressel's in the Central West End, where Jon Dressel, poet, bon vivant and fan of everything Welsh, has stepped, aside in favor of son Ben.
If we needed an excuse for a visit, there's also a new dining room, non-smoking, to the south, with a view of the passing parade on Euclid Avenue. The remodeling also involved a larger kitchen and new rest rooms. The dining room feels very different, with Ben's surfboard hanging as a piece of what might be called athletic-performance art and a photo of him atop it as proof. Yes, surfing. In Wales. On its west coast. Heck, Ann knows someone who scuba dives there. No one in the dining room is about to call you "dude," but the chips, the right mixture of crisp and chjewy, deserve to be termed "rad." The bar remains cozy to the extreme, with lots of drawings of composers and authors, and the oval bar with long-timer Mustachioed John behind it.
While those chips do as a first course for many, there are other meal-starters, some as formal as duck confit on potato-bacon-scallion pancakes with a gingery cherry chutney, others as casual as a riff on the ploughman's lunch theme. The duck was nice enough, but the potato pancake charmed, lots of flavor frolicking around, although we were surprised in a Welsh pub to see scallions rather than leeks, the leek being to Wales what the shamrock is to Ireland. The ploughman's, described as a banger and cheese plate, had a house-made sausage (a banger being the UK slang for a particular common sausage), coarse-ground and moist. While it had one of the two marks of real bangerliness, being markedly underseasoned relative to its kinfolk of other lands, it lacked the heavy dose of breadcrumb filler that marks an authentic banger. This latter, however, is a not-unwelcome concession to American tastes.
The bangers, potato pancake and chutney reappear, this time together, as a main course. And the house's tradition of not only a daily stockpot, some sort of a thick stew, chowder, burgoo, or such, goes on; we had a side of a dense southwestern vegetable soup, but it's primarily done as an entree. Hamburgers, of course, a very respectable half-pound version of the pub burger, but it suffers from being served on brioche. Brioche is a very fine sort of bread, certainly, but it's too sweet and too fragile to pair up with something as gutsy as a hamburger should be. The lamburger, here called a "5" burger served with a Stilton (blue) cheese smear on top, was juicy as all getout, another dish that should be a good gateway for the lamb-reluctant.
Shepherd's pie, an old British Isles dish, is basically meat and gravy topped with mashed potatoes. Dressel's does it with lamb, which is much more traditional, and adds turnips to the potatoes—neeps and tatties, says the menu, using the Scottish phrase. The meat-to-starch ratio is about even or even leaning slightly toward the starch, which points out that this dish was originally a frugal housewife's friend.
A friend succumbed to an order of oysters and chips, and chose well; the oysters weren't overcooked, and were nicely briny. The Asian slaw alongside with ginger and sesame provided a good contrast. Meatloaf was a special one night, and a large slab arrived grilled, which is how it was re-heated. And that worked surprisingly well, the loaf turning crispy at the edges but retaining its juices, some mushrooms on top waving merrily and the first-rate mashed potatoes underneath.
We were also very pleased with the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich with two kinds of cheese and some meaty back bacon that's cured in-house. Toasted ciabatta was the base for this, and it worked well, soaking up the juice from the tomato and holding the melting cheddar and blue cheese. An excellent sandwich.
Desserts were mixed. Bread pudding was too heavy and deeply unexciting. The only flaw in service on a couple of visits was when a young server enthusiastically explained chess pie as an old English dish (it's from the American South). Chess pie, a chocolate version on this particular night, is sweet, dense and gooey, rather like pecan pie without the pecans. The crust was good, and the filling rather like eating a candy bar, which Joe found quite appealing while Ann was less impressed.
Potables are a real draw here, with whiskies and beers of great variety and a better-than-passable wine list. The draft cider is excellent (far better than the bottled ones) and properly dry to accompany most of the food. Beer styles suit every palate and preference.
419 N. Euclid Ave.
Lunch and Dinner daily
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Use dining room door
Entrees and sandwiches: $8-$17