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Oh Those Pretzels

The Lancaster has a lot going for it, besides location

by Aidan Morgan

Lancaster Taphouse
4529 Gordon Road
570-2323
www.thelancaster.ca

Let’s start with a discussion of the Ale Pretzels ($9). Scratch that: let’s start with a full-on encomium to those squishy, salty snakes of deep-fried dough. Because they’re awesome. Like the sandwiches of the Italian Star Deli or the lentil soup at Nicki’s (which I maintain is not as great as it’s made out to be), the ale pretzels at the Lancaster should become inseparable in the imagination from the place itself.

Not only are the pretzels deeply satisfying, they come with two mustards and “Sardo garlic aioli.” Sardo is a kind of cheese, aioli is pretty much mayonnaise, and garlic is garlic. Dip your pretzel in it, long and lovingly. The only pretzel-related issue that comes to mind is the price: for $9 I’d like more pretzel, but this is a small quibble. If you’re there for the pretzels, you’re probably not sitting down to a three-course meal.

Now that we’re all done praising pretzels, let’s talk about everything else.

Exuberant chef and co-owner Joel Williams (the other owner is Tim Rogers) has created a scattered but intriguing menu that seems based more on the chef’s interests than any particular culinary style or theme. Feel like Vietnamese? Try the whopping big Pho Pork Noodle Bowl ($13), a tureen’s worth of spicy broth touted as a hangover cure by the staff (it is). English, maybe? Okay, then how about the English Style Beef Stew ($13)? Nah, let’s hop continents again and order the Casablanca Chicken ($10.50), a Moroccan spiced dish with a cool tabouli and quinoa salad.

The Lancaster’s menu ranges so freely that it’ll take you several visits to really get a sense of their offerings. If you’re a first-time visitor, the best thing to do is to talk to your server and help him or her guide you through the kind of meal you want.

Given the multiple paths through small plates, appetizers, sandwiches, soup, mains (which also had soups and stews) and pizzas, my fellow Knights of Appetite shut down from data overload and just ordered a lot of meat. Three people went for the miniature Surf and Turf ($14), which makes you feel like you’ve wandered into the world’s tiniest steakhouse. It’s perfect if you’re not particularly hungry but prefer a meal instead of a snack.

Another companion at the table ordered the Manhattan Style Striploin ($21) with a red wine reduction ($3), medium rare. The steak, which was nicely tender and blazingly, deliciously red in the centre, came on a bed of root vegetables and roasted red pepper and basil potatoes. The potatoes were a great touch, and I kept stealing forkfuls (forksful?) from her plate as I worked through a giant basket of Truffle Fries ($9).

Based on my experience, I recommend caution with the Lobster Nachos ($13), which I ordered on the recommendation of a friend. I can only conclude that my friend was messing with me. The lobster nachos make no sense. With a disappointing presentation (please, please stop arranging nachos on those long rectangular plates that make me hate existence) and a shelf life of about 60 seconds. After the first minute, the “creamy Gouda cheese sauce” has already congealed into inedibility, taking the sorry nacho chip down with it into a soggy wasteland. By the halfway mark I felt like putting on waders.

The solution to the lobster nachos: eat immediately and split between three or four people.

A better solution is to order the pretzels.

Along with the food, the Lancaster is one of the best places in Regina for craft beer. The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority has been extremely vigilant about keeping good beer out of Saskatchewan, but the Lancaster has a lock on some of the outliers. Among my favourites are the Dead Frog Pale Ale and Estrella Daura, a gluten-free beer from Barcelona that doesn’t taste gluten-free (i.e. like boiled straw).

THE LONELY NEIGHBOUR

The Lancaster has also gone to some lengths to approximate the feeling of a neighbourhood pub, with lots of wooden trim, a cozy fireplace set in the middle of the restaurant, and a stage for live acts. It works well enough, as long as you don’t look out the window.

In one of my earliest reviews, I talked about the importance of restaurants in developing a neighbourhood’s sense of place. A restaurant or a coffee shop anchors a place down. Local people show up, nearby shops benefit, and the area becomes more attractive. Or so goes my addled theory.

The Lancaster, which sits in the middle of an asphalt plaza that doubles as the Grasslands retail area, is part of a new generation of Regina restaurants where that effect isn’t possible. Exploded-mall retail grids aren’t neighbourhoods. They’re giant, block-spanning parking lots.

You can’t add local colour to a parking lot. The businesses may thrive, but it’s tough to add character to a neighbourhood when there is no neighbourhood. People drive there, shop, get back in their cars and drive away.

Then again, the Grasslands website promises to create a “pedestrian friendly environment” with a “Towne Square”, so perhaps I’ll be proven wrong.

I mean, a “Towne Square” can’t be worse than the downtown plaza.


WHAT IS IT: The Lancaster Taphouse

WHAT’S IT FOR: Lunch, appetizers, light meals, supper, beer odysseys

WHEN’S IT OPEN: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight; Sunday, noon-9 p.m.

WHAT’S GOOD: I dug the Surf and Turf for a small plate, and the Ale Pretzels are deep-fried in the fat of archangels.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD: The location is a punishment for some terrible crime that the Lancaster owners must have committed in a past life. I think the lobster nachos might be that crime.