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Prince Charming



Blame it on Cheers. That long-running sitcom convinced my generation that what our lives really need to be complete is a neighborhood bar where -- you guessed it -- everybody knows your name. The sort of drinking hole that is an extension of your living room within a brisk walk from home. The bartenders would treat you like you're an old college buddy, and the jukebox would be Madonna- and Britney-free. Prince of Wales turns out to be just the place for a good many Midtowners. Graced with a large patio facing Piedmont Park, it's an ideal spot to catch up with your pals or get rowdy on an ordinary weeknight while nibbling on top-shelf pub grub.

Voulez-vous les chili cheese fries?:

Part of the Derek Lawford Pubs group (which includes Rose & Crown, Hand in Hand, The Angel, The Spotted Dog and Fox & Hounds), Prince of Wales has been rumored to have French cooks working in its kitchen. It seemed unlikely, but it piqued my curiosity enough to ask on a recent visit. I was told that, no, there weren't any French cooks in any of the pubs' kitchens, although a French-trained chef served as a consultant. Regardless of nationality or training, care has certainly been taken to offer a creative menu that blows standard pub fare away. Burgers, chips and cod sandwiches are available, as are moules mariniére, steak frites and seared tuna nicoise. Ooh la la! No kisses for you tonight:

If snogging the night away isn't in your plans, then pub-seasoned potato chips ($2.95) are an excellent pint-side companion. Thinly shaved and crispy as bacon, they're tossed with enough fresh garlic to burn your tongue. A mountain of chili cheese fries ($5.95) provides as protective a tummy coating for a full evening of drinking as you could possibly need. If you're feeling guilty about depending on beer for your RDA of vitamins and minerals, a house salad ($4.95) fills the order. We're not talking rusty iceberg and mealy chunks of tomato here, but crisp baby lettuce and candylike grape tomatoes dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.

Go fish:

Ahhh, what would a pub be without fish and chips ($6.95, small; $9.95, large)? Here, a lightly battered cod fillet is deep-fried to lovely golden hue and served on a mound of fries next to the homemade jalapeno tartar sauce. It's pub food at its finest -- simple, satisfying and solid. Taken in with a pint of Bass Ale, it's like balm for the world-weary heart. The Farm Cheddar Burger ($7.95) is one of the best burgers in town. It features an 8-ounce, juicy Black Angus patty topped with caramelized onions, thick-cut bacon and about an inch of cheddar.

OK, so a good chunk of the Prince of Wales' clientele is busy getting buzzed on empty stomachs, but if you glance about the room, you'll see that the regulars who know the bartenders by name don't just drink here almost every night -- they eat here, too. With tasty, affordable food and perhaps the most amiable bartenders in town, I know that, like me, the old-timers are always glad they came.

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