Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Firkin Frigate

Firkin & Frigate is a Canadian chain that has been spreading into North America over the past few years. Billed as a British-style pub, its unusual moniker stems from a term once used to describe a 9-gallon measurement. Each franchise is “a little bit different,” but they tend to feature similar fare— and “firkin” in the name.

The first Hampton Roads location sprung up in Newport News’ City Center at Oyster Point. If you’ve driven down Thimble Shoals Boulevard in the past few months, it would be difficult to miss the striking red-and-black facade.
My husband, Dave, and I cruised in to a warm reception from the hostess, who deposited us into a cozy booth. The dining area was an expanse of red and black, broken up by large televisions, pool tables and dartboards.

We sorted through the usual pub-fare suspects, settling just in time to order with the server. She made a few welcome recommendations, not at all minding our barrage of questions, and returned with our beverages in record time.

The kitchen was quick in getting our orders out. I began with a warming bowl of French onion soup ($3.99). Breaking through the gooey Swiss cheese barrier, I encountered a rich, meaty broth that was filled with soft onions and toasted cubes of bread. It was the perfect antidote to the chilly night air, if a touch salty.

Dave started with a round of the Firkin wings ($8.99), served “suicide” hot. The platter set down before him caused a moment of pause.

“These look like they came from a Cornish game hen!” he laughed, picking up a wee, red-tinged little limb. He downed it in one easy slurp, then looked surprised. “It’s actually hot!” I tried one too, and found that, aside from being spicy and aggressively salty, there wasn’t much to chew on. The accompanying fries were coated in a mixture that made sodium crystals begin to form upon my tongue.

Dave’s entree was the hot beef dip ($6.99). Tender slices of roast beef were piled high into a sandwich, with gravy at the ready. The sandwich, while unexceptional, was meaty and filling. Unfortunately, the gravy steered us right back into the salt flats, as did the accompanying fries.

My entree took a walk on the lighter side with the tuna Greek salad ($8.99). An enormous plate held a healthy mound of vibrant fresh greens, strewn with tomatoes, olives, feta, and a Firkin Greek dressing. A grill-marked hunk of tuna sat forlornly on top — one bite confirmed that it had been mercilessly overcooked. Nonetheless, the remainder of the salad was a pleasant surprise. The vegetables were very fresh, the Greek dressing was summery and bright, the crumbles of feta provided just the right tang. I would never have thought that the highlight of our pub dining experience would be the salad, but there you have it.

Pub grub has some basic requirements: it must be filling, it must be comforting and it must be appeal to a broad spectrum. Firkin & Frigate seem to have these bases covered nicely, with some family-friendly options to boot. Throw in some adult-sized fun and games, and you have a model that will pull in the masses.

Firkin & Frigate
711 Thimble Shoals Boulevard, Newport News
Phone: 223-5857 fax: 223-7145
Web site: www.virginiapubs.com
Specialties: pub fare
Price range: (dinner) starters: $4-$10; lighter fare: $14-$17; entrees: $18-$28; dessert: $4-$5
Hours: Sunday: noon-midnight; Monday-Wednesday: 11 a.m.- 1 a.m.; Thursday-Saturday: 11 a.m.- 2 a.m.
Alcohol: beer, wine, full bar
Smoking: only at the bar
Vegetarian: yes
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Payment: cash, credit cards
Noise level: conversational to noisy
Atmosphere: casual
Additional Information: daily specials, children's menu, Firkin hour daily 2 p.m.-9 p.m., brunch: Saturdays 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Sundays 12 p.m.-4 p.m.
Star rating: Food 3, atmosphere 3, service 3 1/2
(out of five stars)


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