Monday, June 19, 2006

You Don't Know Old

In America, we define a place as having been around for a really long time if the sign outside says, "Established 1953."

If you want older than that, you go to...

  • Wrigley Field, which hosted its first baseball game in 1914.
  • The Brooklyn Bridge, which opened in 1883.
  • The spot here in Missouri where Lewis & Clark started their expedition in 1803.
  • Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where our nation was essentially born in 1776.
But if you want really old, you go to England, where they do old like it's going out of business. I'm not just talking about the Tower of London and the other royal stuff. I'm talking about been-around-forever parts of the basic landscape.

Want an example?

Last week, on vacation, we had lunch at The George, a pub in Wiltshire, England, that has been open for business on the same spot since 1361.

Thirteen sixty one! We're not talking antique, we're talking ancient. A hundred and thirty one years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Five hundred years before our Civil War. That's 645 years of lunches, washed down by who-knows-how-many pints of room-temperature ale, or mead, or grog, or whatever they drank in the 14th century.

This place was so old that the newest part of it was a well that was dug in the back patio -- some time in the 1700s. In England, that's recent enough that the warranty on the well is still valid.

And oh, that food. What was the last time you said to anyone, "Hey, let's go out for British food tonight"? The British do have great names for their food (Bangers & Mash, Bubble & Squeak, Toad In The Hole, Trifle, Yorkshire Pudding, and Spotted Dick) and for their pubs (in one day, we passed the Rat & Parrot, the Pig & Whistle, and the Cock & Bottle), but let's just say that the natives aren't preparing culinary treats that will rival those of their European neighbors on any list of great meals.

When you're in the big cities, you have the choice of all the world's cuisine (Italian, Chinese, Indian, French, etc.), but when you're in the English countryside, the menu is going to include lots of things baked into pies -- not for dessert, but for the entree, and that's not all bad. I had some great Harvester Pie (chicken, ham, potatoes, and other vegetables) and my wife loved her Shepherd's Pie. There are also plenty of "takeaway" shops selling pasties, which are not an edible erotic treat, but essentially a hand-held pie pastry filled with steak and potato, or cheese and bacon, or any combination of ingredients.

Still, when you're sitting in a pub that's been standing in that spot since 200 years before Shakespeare was born, you don't expect to find contemporary bar food -- there's nary a chicken Caesar wrap or nacho platter or coconut beer shrimp in sight.

Just like in the Old Days.