The funny little thing about gastropubs is that we all still seem to struggle to define them. We are happily overjoyed that people are endeavoring to open neighborhood bars with better-than-average menus, but what makes a pub a gastropub? For example, although it has been implied, somehow Butcher & the Boar seems to have too far refined a reach, while Buster’s on 28th and Pat’s Tap easily make the cut. There’s something about the neighborhood vibe and the cool-cat cheekiness to the menu and beer list that courts the gastropub label. So you’d think that George & the Dragon would fit right in, wouldn’t you?
Truth be told, I’m not sure. The original gastropubs were solid improvements on your average bar, giving menus a push past a drinker’s repast into an eater’s feast, as if Liquor Lyle’s started serving grass-fed burgers with Sriracha sauce. But we eaters tend to get excited and, as a habit, keep pushing. It feels like the expectations are getting amped up by chefs and eaters, to the point where it has become almost MORE about the food and how far it can be tweaked than it is about the pub. And here’s my thing: George & the Dragon feels more like a real pub—not an average bar, but a real pub.
Opened in the post-fire construction on 50th and Bryant, the public house takes up one half of the building next to the new Patina. It is essentially a square box of a room anchored with giant windows on one side and a big bar on the other. It is bustling, but never quite feels panicked. It is loud, but never really obnoxiously so. The menu is a bit unexpected in that there’s actual English pub fare instead of fish tacos and fig pizza. There are modern touches and a few Asian-inspired dishes, but it seems funny to be surprised by sausage rolls, sort of like coming full circle.
If we start with the starters, and a healthy round of good beer, I’d say you win with battered green beans, which hold a nice green snap hidden in a parka of crunchy beer batter. Onion rings are similarly battered and worthy of finger licking, while the lumpia, a Filipino version of fried egg roll, is crispy and good with beer if not generally underseasoned. Burgers are made with Meyer’s all-natural ground beef, and each one I tried was a nice hunky burger cooked perfectly medium-rare. The buns have a great powdery squish, which kept the heat bomb Dragon burger’s fixings all working together.
For the big stuff, classic fish and chips hit the spot for simple and good pub eating. The milk-braised beef rib was hearty and rich, and the bangers (with expected mash) here are fat sausages made with oats soaked in our local 2 Gingers Whiskey. It’s a nice touch to a solidly simple dish. The fried chicken didn’t seem to be quite perfected yet, but the nightly curry I tried was a well-balanced red curry popping with shrimp.
Fred and Stacy Navarro own this joint, and while she’s in the kitchen, he’s manning the door and quoting wait times to people who are all eager to get in. Families with kids, book club ladies, young hipster singers, and bike guys in full Lance Armstrong gear are all either happily noshing in booths, drinking beers in the entryway, or shopping Patina in the interim.
The thing that I have come to expect with pubs, gastro or otherwise, is that service is an afterthought. Not here. I ordered some apps and a salad for my son and I to share, and the salad came out split evenly on two plates. Well into our first round of food, out of the corner of my eye I could see our main plates heading to the table, but our server stopped them when she saw our full table and turned them back to the kitchen until the table was ready for them. You mean I don’t have to make uncomfortable room or hurry to finish my first course because YOU want me to? That’s a rare gem in the pub world.
So there’s my conundrum. George & the Dragon is a very comfortable, popular, family-friendly neighborhood pub. The menu isn’t cutting-edge or very self-important; in fact, it’s rather traditional and easygoing, which seems to suit the vibe of the owners and the need of the neighborhood eaters. When people ask, I’m going to say it’s a pub (and leave the gastro off), and maybe we can all be glad for a new standard.
813 W. 50th, Mpls., MN 55419, 612-208-1047
Type: American, European
Features: Kid-friendly, Late Night Dining, Wheelchair Accessible
Meals: Brunch, Dinner, Lunch