Beer, cheese and potatoes. If these three food items don't take up 60 percent of your "Five Favorite Things in Life" list, then we don't want to know you. (That still leaves two slots for your significant other and your cat, so don't say our selections take up too much room.)
Perhaps not coincidentally, beer, cheese and potatoes are the three vital elements of that rarest of gustatory pleasures: Welsh rarebit.
Sounds like the makings of a FIGHT CLUB SANDWICH!
But who should the contenders be? The Central West End boasts two Welsh pubs of great renown, both of which claim to serve authentic rarebit -- but let's spice it up a little, shall we? Why not make this a cage match FCS and throw another contender into the ring! Newstead Tower Public House, a gastropub known for its outstanding burgers and locally sourced ingredients, serves as our wild card in this battle royale of beer cheese dips.
We want a good, clean fight.... Let the rarebit rassle begin!
The more senior of the Central West End's Welsh pub duo, Llywelyn's offers rarebit two ways: atop toast (the traditional way), and as a dip for its renowned "Welsh potato chips." We went with the potato-chip rendition for the sake of comparison -- both of the other contenders offer potato dippers in some form, and pardon us if we can't resist experiencing beer/cheese/potato Holy Trinity three times over. Plus, toast just isn't as much fun to eat.
Llywelyn's dip arrived in a small plastic cup perched precariously atop of a full basket of potato chips ($3.95 for an order of pub chips, $1.59 for a side of rarebit). The chips were house made and nicely crisped, but they did not appear to have been fried to order. Which is to say they arrived at the table stone cold.
The dip was mustard yellow in color and tasted like honey mustard. It was missing that strong cheesy, beery flavor we associate with rarebit and instead was weirdly sweet. Consumed with the chips, which weren't heavily salted, it tasted like Dijonnaise. In addition, the dip was soupy and thin, which made us wonder how much cheese actually went in to it. Elsewhere on the menu, the rarebit is described as "Guinness cheedar cheese sauce." We were unable to detect the presence of either.
Only a block away, Dressel's rarebit beckoned. These we ordered in the form of Bavarian chips ($6), served with a rarebit ($2.50) described on the menu as a "scrumptious cheese and ale dipping sauce."
Here the chips were fried to order and arrived warm and greasy. Some chips were thick and chewy, others thin, crisp and dark, and the rest somewhere in between -- like the love child of a potato chip and a French fry. Whichever kind you choose, it's glistening perfection, almost dripping with grease and almost magnetically appealing, like all good pub food. Pair that with a hefty dip of thick rarebit, the crunch and chew of the chip melding with the slight grainy feel of the dip, and you're in high-calorie heaven. First you taste extra-sharp cheddar, then the beer flavor kicks in. (It paired very nicely with a glass of Strongbow hard apple cider.)
One warning: Nearly every time we've been ordered this combo at Dressel's, we've run out of rarebit before running out of chips. It's up to you whether you want to pay the extra few bucks and few ounces of dignity required to ask your waiter for a refill.
Newstead Tower Public House
And now, the dark horse: Newstead Tower Public House, the gastropub famous for its burgers (which were, in fact, dubbed "Best Burger" by Riverfront Times this year). Newstead flaunts elevated pub fare and features rarebit on grilled toast and as a side with French fries.
We opted for the pommes frites ($5), of course, which comes with sides of both vinegar and aioli. The rarebit ($2.50) was brought in its own little tin cup alongside the aioli.
You can taste both the sharp cheddar and the beery components in the rarebit, and it does a great job cutting the saltiness of the fries. On its own Newstead's rarebit is great, if more beery than cheesy.
The problem, however, comes in comparison. Next to the aioli and the vinegar, the rarebit fails to stand out, unlike other renditions that we would gladly eat off our fingers if it was polite to forgo chips in public. It must be said: When placed alongside other condiments, Newstead's rarebit somewhat less than holds its own.
Dressel's, by a landslide. The chips are perfection, and the rarebit itself is good enough to eat on its own, and if it happens to be an off-night for the kitchen, well, there's enough beer in the building to make you forget all about it.
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