Penny Lane: hearty, well-made meals at an unassuming pub

Bond Street onion rings (Alex Nunes)
Bond Street onion rings (Alex Nunes)

While fanfare is often reserved for the chic, here-today-gone-tomorrow restaurants that serve "transparent ravioli," "modernist foams," and "multi-sensory" air crisps, there's truly nothing better than a hearty, well-made meal at an unassuming, classic pub.

Penny Lane Pub, the English-style haunt on Main Street in Old Saybrook with a wistful British barfly aesthetic, is one such place.

The appetizers selection works well for a party looking to share a few starters between the table.

Some are fairly expected pub options: Penny Lane Nachos with tomatoes, red onions, black olives, jalapenos, cheese, sour cream, and salsa ($12.99); Bond Street onion rings with chipotle aioli ($7.99); calamari with cherry peppers and basil ailoi ($11.99); and pretzel bites with a whole grain mustard and IPA dipping sauce ($7.99).

Other apps have some twists that stand out: fried coconut encrusted shrimp with orange-horseradish dipping sauce ($11.99); two fried Prince Phillip's crab cakes on a bed of greens with dill-tomato aioli, and mango wasabi coulis ($13.99); and Prince Edward Island mussels simmered in coconut-lemongrass broth with bits of jalapeno bacon ($13.99).

I stuck with the simple — the spinach and artichoke dip ($12.99), and the aforementioned Bond Street onion rings.

The onions rings were delicious, savory, and very crispy. The chipotle aioli added a dynamic flavor and some moistness.

Given the onion ring's not so figure-friendly reputation and the excellence of these ones, don't be surprised if you have to compete against your tablemates for your fair share while enduring your diet-conscious friends feign: "Oh, I never eat onion rings, but I can't help myself (chomp, chomp). They're just so good (chomp, chomp)."

Indeed, it's probably best to get two orders.

The spinach and artichoke dip came with a plate of multi-colored (blue, red, and yellow) and nicely salted tortilla chips, served alongside a dish of a pleasantly sharp cheese blend mixed with baby spinach, and artichokes hearts.

The dip was finished off with chopped chunks of tomato, adding flavor and textural variation.

The New England clam chowder ($5.50 for a cup; $6.99 for a bowl) was hearty, with thick chunks of potato and bits of bacon in there, too.

Entrees come with a complimentary house salad, served with a dressing of your choice. So keep that fact in mind before overloading on too many appetizers at the start of your meal.

The dinner menu is an anglophile's dream — Black Angus prime rib with Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes and green beans (served Friday and Saturday after 5 p.m. at market price), shepherd's pie ($17.99), fish and chips ($17.99), and Lord Saye's liver and onions ($20.99) — but it's also by no means limited to English pub fare.

The polenta and grilled vegetable melt ($19.99) is the only vegetarian option in the main entrees section. (There's a spicy black bean burger for $11.99 on the burgers list.) It comes with a generous serving of polenta and a distinctly smoky mix of veggies (squash, bell peppers, onions, Portobello mushrooms, tomatoes) and topped with cheddar cheese and a balsamic glaze.

The Newcastle free range roasted chicken ($20.99) is among numerous gluten-free options clearly labeled on the menu. It comes with a moist half chicken, roasted garlic lemon sauce, sautéed spinach, and an excellent smashed cauliflower side that serves as a mashed potato substitute.

My favorite entree, however, had to be the scallop Shakespeare ($24.99), consisting of pan-seared scallops over basmati rice and served with corn suboise, a veggie mix of bell peppers, wild mushrooms, onions, and corn, with a final touch of basil oil.

The mix of the nicely cooked scallops, the array of ingredients, and well paired flavors made this one truly sing.

The downstairs atmosphere is classic pub, with a bar, tall booths, and a low-light vibe. The upstairs is well suited to large parties and people bringing along kids. There's also a children's menu with offerings ranging from hot dog to grilled cheese to hamburger/cheeseburger to macaroni and cheese (all priced at $7.99).

And, while I can't say for sure whether this is a general rule or not, the staff did allow my grandmother, who was feeling a little unadventurous on our recent visit, to order a hot dog off the kids' menu, despite being 77 years past the age cut off.

The ambience at Penny Lane Pub is fun, relaxed and unpretentious (as is the service). I did rather observe that the music list was more than a little Beatles-heavy before the significance of the restaurant name was pointed out to me.

That also helped put into context all the framed pictures of John Lennon and other band ephemera.

There's an outdoor seating area that's warmed by patio heaters, making it a viable option this time of year, and a small alleyway at the side of the building, outfitted with a bar-style counter and stools for outdoor imbibing and conversation.

On-street parking in Old Saybrook was available directly outside Penny Lane on the early Sunday evening I visited, although I could see the potential for things to get a little crowded on a Friday or Saturday evening.

Overall, it was an enjoyable visit, and one worth making again.

Artichoke and spinach dip (Alex Nunes)
Artichoke and spinach dip (Alex Nunes)

If you go

Penny Lane Pub

150 Main St., Old Saybrook

(860) 348-9646

Cuisine: English pub fare

Service: Friendly and accommodating

Price: Moderate

Hours: Dining: Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover

Handicapped access: Ramp access at side of building; first floor is navigable by wheelchair

























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