Crowning Achievement

The Crown and Goose • 123 S. Central St.

If you're a pub purist, this is not the kind of pub you may be used to. The new Crown and Goose in the Old City is actually a much more refined "gastropub," with a menu that goes far beyond your usual pub grub. It's fun, casual, and sophisticated. The custom-built bar, red-leather sofas, Tiffany-style fixtures, etched glassware, and brick walls announce you've entered an advanced form of pub—a swank one playing British Invasion music and offering its own beer garden.

The Crown and Goose serves moderately expensive dishes: $7-11 for small-plates and $15-28 for large entrees. The fish and chips, shepherd's pie, and ploughman's lunch are pub staples with upscale twists. The "fish nibbles" (no chips) are a small-plate (alongside items such as Belgian endive "tacos" and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus). The soft cod is battered with panko, giving it a light crispiness. The pickle-tangy tartar sauce has complex flavors and sleek consistency.

The huge shepherd's pie features lamb served two ways: minced lamb in the pie and two lamb chops, braised in pomegranate juice, prettily garnished with a fresh rosemary stem. The ploughman's lunch is an elegant twist on the plainest pub fare—an English cheeseboard with roasted walnuts and preserves and the restaurant's perfectly textured artisan bread.

You'll also find numerous items that are not deviations on standard pub fare: confit of sea salt and turbinado sugar-cured duck legs, and winter squash and radicchio risotto, for example. I haven't tried the duck, but the risotto—one of the few vegetarian items on the menu, not counting salads and a couple of the small plates—has a pleasing combination of flavors: butternut squash, shallots, and herbs in sweet risotto over brown sugar-butter roasted acorn squash topped with strips of radicchio and long pieces of nutty, shaved parmesan cheese.

As I've tasted my way through the menu, some definite winners have emerged. I love the rich, smoky flavor of the scallops and foie gras: large, tasty seared scallops atop lusciously creamy saffron-scented couscous, haricots verts, and tiny sauteed mushrooms with a sherry beurre blanc, garnished with seared, buttery strips of foie gras. The prime rib, with Yorkshire pudding and braised swiss chard, comes topped with my new guilty indulgence: crispy leeks. For a really sinful treat, try the "Best Deviled Eggs You've Ever Had," which are, if nothing else, the richest, most extravagantly-flavored (and priced) deviled eggs I've ever encountered: four eggs stuffed with lump blue crab, scallions, and capers with a pinch of cayenne pepper for $8.

I've also discovered my favorite dessert. It's sticky toffee pudding, but the "Queen" of puddings is a close second. If you're with a group, go for the Royal Sampler, which gives you my two favorites plus a chocolate and pecan tart and a pear tarte tatin. The sticky toffee pudding is a decadent, warm concoction featuring medjool dates and toffee sauce with whipped crème fraiche. The "Queen" is a warm Meyer lemon custard glazed with raspberry jam, topped with meringue. As a light end to a meal, consider the European cheeseboard which includes an aged gouda, a manchego, a gruyere, a hard Spanish goat's milk cheese called Idiazebel, and St. Andre Triple Crème, a sweet brie-like cheese. Served with berries, honey-roasted walnuts, preserves, and bread, there is plenty for two to share—though I wouldn't have minded less gouda and more of that yummy Triple Crème.

It seemed wrong not to try the beer. It is a pub, after all. The $3 sampler allows you to try shot glasses of the pub's three special beers, which are brewed by Smoky Mountain Brewery. The Royal Stout, dark, heavy but not bitter, was my top pick. The London IPA, the strongest of the three, was a "hoppy" beer. The biggest-seller, Director's Bitter, was my least favorite as it seemed more ordinary somehow.

There were opening week kinks: large crowds, slow service. But it's attracting a clientele that has not visited the Old City much recently. And if the Crown and Goose draws additional business to an old favorite, it will be a good thing for the neighborhood. m