When I first heard about Fort Amherst Pub moving to Churchill Square after several disastrous (and wet) openings in downtown St. John’s, I was pretty jazzed. The shopping square is a short walk from my house and I’ve always loved town square feeling of this veritable strip mall, but recently it’s become a little dire. With the departure of Dominion grocery store and iconic Papa’s Pier 17, the shopping destination in Central St. John’s became a little less central — I’m happy to see new life breathed in.
Then I read a local newspaper review of the restaurant. I’ve enjoyed reading many reviews and written countless myself, but I’ve have read few with such an air of disinclination. As a food writer, I think reviews are a way to tell a story about the people of a restaurant, to introduce readers to a new establishment or simply to present an unbiased view of what’s on the menu. It is not a way to kick a guy when he’s down. Because of this particularly negative review, I had to go check out the food at Fort Amherst Pub. It just couldn’t be that bad.
Lunch at Fort Amherst Pub
My mother, sister and I decided to meet at the new pub for a weekday lunch. The decor at Fort Amherst Pub is sleek, much more gastropub feel than traditonal pub, but modern and clean. First things first: drinks. Mom went with a beer and I chose the Mudder in Law’s Sour ($14), a great cocktail with bourbon whiskey, lemon, raspberry syrup and rhubarb bitters.
The menu contains a variety of plates ranging from caesar salads and confit duck wings to steak and chips. While the menu would work great for an evening downtown, for lunch in Churchill Square, where throngs of Memorial’s faculty and staff frequent, I think the menu needs to be a little more lunch friendly i.e including the midday s-trifecta of soups, salads and sandwiches.
We shared the Prezel Bites ($10) to start. the bites themselves resembled a TimBit in the best kind of way and the mustard cheddar dipping sauce had a piquant bite that we delighted in. I could have drank it by the glass.
Southern fried lobster?
Mom went with the Lobster Taco Duo ($16). I’ve rarely seen lobster southern fried and I was intrigued by this dish, so obviously I tried some. It was a freaking flavour bomb; the avocado lime puree mellowed out the sweet sour cream chutney and with the savoury lobster encased in crispy breading it was hard not to eat all mudder’s plate!
I went with The Ft Mac ($22) as my main — and no, it’s not a mac and cheese. The burger is made up like a big mac with and served with a pile of fries. While quite tasty, it was a little hard to eat, but my preference is for a flatter burger. I particularly appreciated how the server asked me how I wanted the meat cooked; classy move right there.
The infamous quail
My sister went with “It tastes like Chicken,” otherwise known as southern-fried quail ($13). A certain reviewer-who-remains-nameless discussed how terrifying this looked on the plate ( I believe the term “nightmare” was used). No one at our table thought it looked weird. If one should ever Google southern fried quail, and one would see image of a very similar dish over and over again.
This dish was actually my favourite of the whole meal. The quail was juicy and sat atop a flavourful corn pancake with collard greens and pops of sweet watermelon. Well-balanced and very well-priced.
More pavlova please
This dish was shockingly gorgeous. I would never expect pavlova at a pub, let alone a pavlova with magazine-worthy spun sugar, fresh berries and curd. Hold onto your pastry chef Fort Amherst Pub.
The moral of this review? Fort Amherst Pub has a lot going for it; the food is toothsome but they haven’t quite cut their teeth on their identity. While some dishes echo pub classics, others shadow high-end dining (not that I can complain about that) making the menu confusing for the typical restaurant patron. This place is great for a date night or for an evening of food with friends. With a more focused menu — which has already changed a little since my visit — this place could become a stronghold in Churchill Square.