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Of Pints, Ploughmen and Personality

by B.A. Nilsson on April 10, 2014

 

Peint O Gwrw Welsh Pub

37 Main St, Chatham, 392-2337. Serving 4-9 Sun, Tue-Thu, 4-10 Fri-Sat. Bar open later. Cash only (ATM on premises).

Cuisine: U.K.-slanted pub fare

Entrée price range: $4 (mac and cheese) to $14 (fried seafood platter)

Ambiance: drinker’s lair

“If I lived near the place, I’d be there all the time,” a friend of mine said, and I had to agree. It’s been decades since I’ve shared a neighborhood with a tavern, let alone one that bursts with character.

Styling Chatham’s Peint o Gwrw as a Welsh pub has been more than a marketing gimmick for owner Tom Hope. It salutes his heritage—he has determined that it’s one of only four such pubs in the country, with two of them in St. Louis—but also gives him a forum in which to offer the food and hospitality he finds meaningful.

“I’ve been living here for 20 years,” he says, “and I realized soon after I moved in that there was no place nearby where you could get a pint. I had to drive 15 minutes into Hudson.

He’d been working at his wife’s quirky retail store, American Pie, in downtown Chatham when a realtor told him that the price of a building across the street had dropped. He looked at the place and made an offer. “And suddenly I was in the pub business,” he says. Had he run one before? “I didn’t have a clue. I still don’t.” And it was an unluckily timed opening, occurring as it did at the beginning of September 2001, but the operation has grown and thrived in the succeeding years.

photo by B.A. Nilsson

Especially in terms of the menu. “At first, all we offered was a ploughman’s lunch,” says Hope, “but everybody wanted more food than that. Except the insurance company.”

Hope is also involved in historic house restorations, and brought this talent to the pub’s interior. The tin on the ceilings, the wood of the booths—all was put in by him, along with the stuffed animals that greet you throughout the establishment, beginning with the bear that welcomes the arriving guest.

Given my choice of seat during a late-afternoon visit, I was torn between tables and booths, choosing one of the former because it had a beautiful surface of copper. A knot of regulars clustered at the bar. Musicians were hauling in gear for a performance later that night.

“It’s pretty casual, the music here,” says Hope. “I like to give local bands a chance to play, so we have some that come in when they can. But we also have the Chandler Travis Philharmonic here from time to time. Don’t ask me why they come all the way out here to play, but I’m not going to say no!”

Perhaps what Welsh fare truly means is following your passions. Certainly Hope has the finding-a-pint problem taken care of, with a beer menu that includes such local brews as the Chatham Porter I enjoyed.

He’s also enough of a fan of Indian cookery to offer a so-themed night on Wednesdays. The menu changes, but might be like one that I saw, which promised that $10 would get you (choose two) Madras curry (chicken thigh and cauliflower), chicken korma, spicy roasted eggplant or palak paneer, with two samosas (potato-and-pea-filled pastry) included.

The regular menu has such usual apps as chicken wings ($5 for six, $8 for a dozen), potato skins ($6) and mozzarella sticks (six for $6). The fried stuff section starts off, as it should, with fish & chips ($10), and includes crab cakes ($9) and a fried seafood platter that includes haddock and clam strips, shrimp and steak fries ($14).

Under the wraps and sandwiches column are a pulled pork wrap ($8) or sandwich ($9), a BLT on wheatberry bread ($8), grilled salmon wrap ($8), fried eggplant with marinara and mozzarella (a “sloppy eggplant” sandwich, $9) and a pair of hot dog sliders ($5). Burgers get their own menu section, with the basic half-pounder going for $9 (including fries), a turkey burger for the same price, Tom’s own kimchi burger (you read that correctly) for $10 (it is not, warns the menu, for the faint of heart), and an $11 monstrosity topped with pulled pork, cheddar and onion rings.

Among the vegetarian items are vegan bratwurst ($5.50), mac and cheese ($4), butternut squash ravioli ($10), a veggie burger ($8) and a combo plate of hummus and baba ganouj ($8), which is where I started, being a sucker for those Middle Eastern dips. Not only was it a far larger serving than I expected, but the server also was clever enough to upsell me on the addition of stuffed grape leaves ($4), which, with all the pita that accompanied it, made this enough for a dinner for two.

So I left it unfinished in order to tackle the shepherd’s pie ($8). I had been told that the burgers were terrific; I had intended to try a burger. But I’m always curious to see how this less-seen classic dish is handled, and here it’s a portion of seasoned ground beef studded with peas, enclosed in a pastry bowl with a topping of mashed potatoes.

It was an entirely serviceable preparation, but I missed the flavors of lamb and HP sauce. That’ll teach me. Also under the “Seasonal” heading are bangers and mash ($8), fettuccine with smoked trout in a cream sauce ($9), and meatballs or pepperoni or chili or a chili and mac-and-cheese combo in a bread bowl ($8 each).

So, yes, it would help to live closer. But it’s a comfort at least to know that there’s a kimchi burger with my name on it awaiting my next trip to the area.