George and the Dragon's family-friendly pub
George goes beyond the typical English pub food, with dishes like a salmon salad. Take the tour...
Benjamin Carter Grimes
The medieval legend of St. George and the Dragon is a classic tale of a girl, her girdle, a guy, and the gigantic lizard he leveraged to help him convert a city of heathens. The whole scenario is pretty bananas, but my guess is you just want to know more about the girdle part. Well, as with any ancient story, both veracity and version control are serious issues, but the basic narrative takes place in Silene, where George happened to be riding by this pond where a lady, who happened to be a princess, was about to be fed to the dragon that happened to live in the pond. A valiant George fortified himself with the sign of the cross, stabbed the dragon, and told the princess to throw him her girdle, as men are wont to do in a stressful situation. She obliged, and George lassoed the dragon with the girdle, which apparently rendered the dragon as pliant and docile as a baby sloth. Girdles! So many uses! Anyway, thanks to the power of this belt George was able to lead the dragon around town, striking fear in the hearts of the villagers, and proclaimed that he would only slay the dragon if they all agreed to be baptized. It proved an effective tactic, and George was eventually martyred and named the patron saint of England.
Fast-forward a few centuries to a beautifully breezy, and thankfully dragonless, Thursday evening in the Lynnhurst neighborhood of south Minneapolis. The line outside the newly opened George and the Dragon is considerable, but the people in it, even those in the midst of a 45-minute wait, are smiling, window-shopping, and promising their shin-guard-wearing offspring that they can have root beer with dinner (Frost Top is on tap here). Much like the villagers of Silene, the people of Lynnhurst have long been restless, waiting for their hero to arrive in restaurant form. Since the 2010 fire that destroyed Heidi's and Blackbird, two well-loved eateries that made this area a destination for sophisticated dining, the block has been gathering strength, and George and the Dragon's owner, Fred Navarro, has been at the center of its resuscitation. It's not an exact parallel, but Navarro is sort of the George of his own restaurant, tasked with converting the people of Lynnhurst to a more casual, more kid-friendly, more deeply fried way of life. Maybe that's too weak a metaphor, but George most certainly inspired the menu, which is filled with traditional English pub fare and a few Navarro family favorites.
Family is a big thing here. When Navarro brings groups of parents and young kids to their tables for brunch, he points out a shelf full of books, games, and toys they can play with while they wait for their buttermilk pancakes (made from Grandpa Murphy's recipe) or cinnamon French toast. "That was my son's idea," says Navarro, pointing to his long-haired mini-me posted up at the bar with a soda and a pal, looking every inch the restaurant regular. "That's why we call it Paco's Corner."
As far as food goes, there's plenty of kid-friendly fare, including a decently juicy classic burger made with Meyer's natural beef, mac and cheese (tomato and bacon are optional add-ins), and fish and chips with the perfect fish-to-batter ratio, nicely salted, and crispy but with a dreamy dissolving effect. Maybe your kids won't appreciate them for all those reasons, but you will if you can snag one from their plate. Also kid-approved and worth ordering (at brunch only) are the beignets, another family recipe. They are a little denser and more cakey than the ones at Cafe Du Monde, but still pretty irresistible. Made to order, they come to the table warm with a layer of slightly hardened powdered sugar, and the cottony centers are best with a spot of homemade strawberry jam.
On the more adult side, the beer selection, while not vast, is well balanced between local brews and English imports. Fulton, Brau Brothers, Summit, and Lift Bridge are all represented, along with across-the-pond favorites Old Speckled Hen (still somewhat of a rarity on tap) and Young's double chocolate stout. All wines are available by the glass and bottle, and for teetotalers there's homemade ginger ale — a nice option, but don't expect the sharp, almost medicinal spice of something like Reed's. This is fresh-tasting but much more mild.
Though traditional English pub menus often include a curry or other Indian dish, George and the Dragon injects more of the flavors of Asia and the Pacific Rim, with items like a banh mi sandwich, a daily changing curry, and pub wings with a sweet soy glaze. There's also lumpia, which is essentially the Filipino version of a fried spring roll. It wasn't anything overly exciting but made a serviceable bar snack. The most successful Asian-influenced dish on the menu is one of Navarro's favorites, the Asian Hangover. It takes already richly flavored, fatty, and falling apart Compart pork, sort of the quality equivalent of Angus beef, and exoticizes it with cloves, Sichuan pepper, cinnamon, fennel, and star anise. Add to that thin, snappy garlic green beans and a perfect over-easy fried egg on a bed of fragrant jasmine rice and you have a brunch, lunch, or dinner that packs as much punch as your previous night out.
It seems like all the English dishes have been slightly tweaked to suit more American tastes. Not that the owners are trying to make this the premiere authentic place for English transplants to get their bubble 'n' squeak on. I mean, their version of a fry-up breakfast doesn't even include Heinz beans. They do make a Sunday roast, which included a monster slab of rosy beef roast covered in thick gravy, rich mashed potatoes, a popover (in place of Yorkshire pudding), and a sort of Minnesota picnic pea salad (in place of regular steamed or mushy peas) made with peas, cheese, bacon, almonds, and a mayo-based dressing. The bangers and mash were a standout favorite, though the texture of the finely ground meat in the sausage is more what you would expect in a Swedish sausage than in a British banger. George and the Dragon gives this dish a unique treatment by mixing the meat with Irish oats that have been soaked in 2 Gingers whiskey. The same sausage gets wrapped in flaky pastry dough and is reborn as sausage rolls, delicious with a side of hot, whole-grain mustard cream for dipping.
Burgers and toasties (grilled sandwiches) all come with the option of excellent house-made chips (thick-cut, fluffy-inside, darkly golden French fries) or puffy tempura-fried green beans with truffle mayo, which are well worth the upgrade. Toasties were all a little too heavy on the cheese and spreads, which didn't do any favors for the wimpy bread they came on. Better to opt for one of the aptly named Dragon burgers with pepperjack cheese and briny hot pickled peppers on a bun that doesn't buckle under pressure.
George keeps things simple at dessert, with just a few verbal offerings per night. The chocolate bread pudding was fine if a little dry, but the berry trifle was a more enjoyable dish, with sweet lemony pound cake and whipped cream but, confusingly, no custard.
Navarro is an industry vet, and he runs his restaurant that way, meaning it's a tight ship but not at all stiff. Even in a hopping restaurant, courses were timed well and drinks refilled swiftly, and there was no long lag between getting our check dropped and actually paying it. Though the menu is fairly predictable, it's also all very palatable and well portioned. Nothing is too much, too bland, too spicy, or too expensive. Navarro's vision was for George and the Dragon to be a true public house, a come-as-you-are place for people to gather seven days a week. It's a little early to call, but looking around at the well-fed customers with clean plates and full beers, it seems like it's mission accomplished. Dragon slayed. Villagers converted.
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