Calvert's in the Heights: Pensacola's English Pub
For whatever reason, one I have yet to fully comprehend or understand, Irish pubs are a common theme for restaurants here in the United States of America, but English inspired kitchens seem to be a much more rare item. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about the plethora of Irish pubs which litter the streets of nearly Everytown, USA, however, I do wish there were a few more English themed eateries, both locally all across this great nation. Luckily for me, and every other resident of Pensacola and the surrounding areas, Calvert’s in the Heights has opened its doors in Pensacola’s East Hill, bringing a much needed variety to the U.K. style restaurants and bars in town. Before I lavish Calvert’s with praise however, I thought I’d dive a bit into the history of English food, and list off some of the differences between a traditional Irish pub and a traditional English pub.
If you were travelling abroad, many may joke that the differences you’ll see between and Irish pub and one of the English variety are mostly just the football (soccer) games on the television and the beers on tap. Well, those two traits, but with a different accent on the bartender and the patrons alike. The main difference, however, would be the cuisine served by the chefs and cooks within the hot, greasy kitchens pubs typically offer. I don’t mean this as a derogatory statement, but more of in a complimentary way. I mean, who goes to a pub to lose weight? Sometimes, even the most stringent fitness addicts must indulge in fried food feasts, sugary escapades, and/or parades of meat. Pubs offer these three sinful delights in spades; if a kitchen preparing up fish n’ chips and corned beef sandwiches was void of grease and at least a slight bit of grime, I’d imagine they haven’t had a customer all day.
A fascinating difference between pubs in Ireland and England is actually wrapped up in the ownership of the establishments. In England, traditional pubs are typically owned by a brewery, which allows for cheap ale, and therefore, happy customers. In Ireland, pubs are mostly independently owned by families not involved in the beverage making trade, meaning that their stock is derived from whatever the owner wants to buy. While different traditional Irish pubs may purchase their beer from different manufacturers, their stock is largely going to be similar to one another, like an American bar, where as English pubs are more likely to have the attached brewery’s unique brews. Speaking of the term “bar”, in Ireland, you are likely to hear the locals refer to their preferred local drinking establishment as a bar, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a soul uttering that phrase in jolly ol’ England.
Due to the varying economic conditions of both nations, Irish pubs in Ireland tend to be more rustic and homey than the more well dressed and luxuriously designed pubs in England. In America, English pubs and Irish pubs often mimmick their counterparts across the pond, and you’ll often find that Irish pubs stateside aren’t nearly as opulent or fanciful as English pubs one may visit. While larger metropolitan areas such as Dublin offer five star experiences of every variety, and the English countryside has its fair share of pubs fit far more for peasants than kings, the regular is regularly copied here in America, which I find helps bring an authenticity to English and Irish pubs that other ethnic restaurants may sometimes miss.
Besides what football (soccer) teams are playing on the televisions across the place, another major difference between English and Irish pubs is live music. Concerts, live singing and the like are normal fixtures at Irish pubs across Ireland, and many here in the states as well. Pensacola has a plethora of terrific Irish pubs who perfectly capture the vibe, including the legendary McGuire’s and the delicious O'Reilly's. It may surprise you to find that English pubs are generally bars sans musical performances of any kind, outside of maybe drunken offkey chatings of patrons or liquored up, celebrating soccer hooligans.
Foodwise, England and Ireland have similar, but definitely distinct culinary styles native to their region. Close proximity of borders, ownership of Ireland from the United Kingdom, and similar weather conditions help bridge the gap where local traditions bring their own spin to the same dishes. For example, if you were to compare the “English fry-up” and the “Irish fry”, you’d have almost identical dishes consisting of fried potatoes, a fried egg and either bacon or pork sausages. However, in England, baked beans are a typical addition to the meal, while in Ireland, one is more likely to find black pudding as well as bacon and/or other varieties of pork sausages. For those not in the know, blood sausage thinly sliced and fried is what is known as black pudding. Obviously, there are no pudding cups with this stuff. Going back to the English version, baked beans are a normal staple in the English diet, but further up in Ireland, this practice of eating the musical fruit isn’t nearly as commonplace.
Breakfast is usually on the healthier side in Ireland though, despite what assumptions reading about the “Irish fry” filled you with. While the English love their potatoes, sausages, bacon, toast, beans and eggs, the Irish are much more likely to eat a healthy, small breakfast consisting of oatmeal. The Irish are indeed fond of their carbs, as evidenced by their love of “soda bread”, also known as cake bread. Instead of using yeast to make this bread, baking soda and buttermilk are used to create a special taste unlike anything. This treat isn’t sold in England all that often, in America, the treat is often sold as “Sweet Irish Bread” during St. Patrick’s Day.
While many say you’ll never find an Irishmen in an English pub just as true as you’ll never find an Englishman in an Irish pub, we’re on the cusp of 2019 and racial tensions sure aren’t what they used to be. Especially in The United States, where a large majority of both English and Irish pubs have been Americanized, what would be considered commonplace, or even proper across the pond, aren’t held to with the same adherence. Calvert’s in the Heights is a prime example of why this is a good thing! For example, in a traditional English pub, I’m going to be lucky to find Shepherd’s Pie, as it is more of an Irish meal. But I love Shepherd’s Pie, and I have found it is a great dish to trick kids into eating their vegetables. Garlic Parmesan or mango habanero chicken wings are definitely two items you aren’t likely to find in either an Irish or English pub, but I like garlic Parmesan and mango habanero chicken wings. I personally love soccer, but let’s face it, Florida is apart of The Southern American States, and not The United Kingdom. I’m perfectly comfortable with college football on the TV over European League Soccer.
And that’s the beauty of Calvert’s in the Heights, is it is such a tremendous combination of what makes English pubs special, married with a typical American neighborhood bar, and with a sprinkle of Irish influence for good measure. Their menu boasts traditional English faire, such as Bangers & Mash (a housemade green onion sausage on a bed of freshly whipped up mashed potatoes with a side of cabbage), Fish n chips, and a Beef Wellington so savory and delicious, you’d think you had married into the royal family. The puff pastry they use for their Beef Wellington is truly to die for. What they have titled “The Gob Smack”, a blood orange and herb marinated pork ribeye served with lima beans, a side of rice and a seasonal vegetable, tastes as authenticity English as it sounds.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to go to a fish n chips shop in England (often called chipperys), you know the American style of french fry, or what they call chips, is quite different. Here at Calvert’s, they forgo American tradition in exchange for their English roots, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Long and thick like a traditional steak fry, but thin and crispy as opposed to fluffy and fat, the fries (chips) at Calvert’s are life changing, and give the kings of the genre such as Five Guys and the duck fat fries at Hopjack’s a run for their money.
Irish and American favorites make an appearance though. I mentioned earlier with Shepherd’s Pie and the chicken wings (which also come in mild, hot, teriyaki, lemon pepper, honey sriracha, BBQ and fire BBQ flavors), Calvert’s in the Heights has both other American classics (their burger, oh my goodness, it’s just so juicy!) as well as Americanized versions of English food, and Englishized versions of American food. The Philly Roll is basically a Philly Cheese steak inside of a spring roll, with beer cheese sauce for dipping. The English Skins, which feature pork belly, cheddar jack cheese with diced tomato and sour cream is a creative version of an American barroom staple appetizer. For those wanting to eat a little lighter, they have a great Caesar salad, and I’m always a sucker for any business with a solid Greek salad on the menu. For those wanting a more local taste, you have got to try their Shrimp Po’ Boy. Dressed with ketchup and mustard, it is a new spin on an old favorite for me.
While you can’t go wrong with their bread pudding or their banana pudding, “The Celie” is a dessert which steals the show for me personally. They take a battered lemon Oreo, deep fry it, and then serve it with blueberry compote. Anyone who knows me knows I love blueberry and lemon mixed together, and “The Celie” may be one of the finest desserts ever to implement the pairing.
Calvert’s is a lot of things; a great American restaurant, a (mostly) traditional English pub, a wonderful fusion restaurant, a neighborhood bar and, most importantly to many I know, home to “The Celie”. If you haven’t had the pleasure of trying out this gem of an eatery, do yourself a favor and check them out sooner than later. They are located at 3102 E Cervantes St, Pensacola, FL 32503 and you can call them at (850) 332-5838. Be sure to check out their website at https://calvertsintheheights.com/