Spotlight On… The Dog & Bull!
Founded in 1431, The Dog & Bull is the oldest pub in Croydon, England.
Since Ryan wasn’t willing to send us there, we decided to stop by its namesake in Croydon, Pennsylvania.
Known for great beer, fantastic food, and a hopping music scene, the Dog & Bull Brew and Music House in PA is quite a bit younger than the one across the pond.
We’ll be participating in a Cigar and Beer Dinner there next week — January 7th through the 9th — so we wanted to stop by to get the story on this bar and eatery. We sat down with Assistant General Manager Camillia Al-Rokh and Chef Max Schindler, both of whom have an obvious love for the bar.
The Dog & Bull has been a staple in Croydon, PA, for 10 years and had been a biker bar before the new owners — Brian Poehlmann and Ed McDonald — took it over. Two years later, they renovated it with an English pub feel, expanding into craft beer and making a name for themselves in the local music scene.
“It was a much smaller bar,” Camillia tells us. “It used to have pool tables, but we got rid of that and created a dining room and expanded out to the patio. Then we took over the barber shop next door for offices. We’ve expanded every way that we can, except for onto the train tracks.”
The rustic interior of the Dog & Bull — painted brick and paneling –, as well as the stucco of the exterior, screams “dive bar,” but they’ve turned that into a family-friendly dining experience. Camillia jokes that the building had been around “since the dawn of time.”
Adjacent to Croydon Station, serviced by SEPTA’s Trenton Regional Rail Line, the Dog & Bull has a very laid back crowd, and their regulars are the lifeblood of their bar.
“I know, probably, 70% of the faces that come in on any given day,” Camillia says. “We’re pretty community-oriented. We have Customer Appreciation Night, and I’m genuinely friendly with the majority of our customers. I moved in with one! That’s about as friendly as you can get!”
Max agrees that their regulars are their lifeblood.
“We really try to create a welcoming atmosphere,” he says, “and, because of that, we’ve really got a great group of regulars who are supportive and a great part of our community.”
In addition to their Customer Appreciation Nights, they have Sushi Nights in the even months and Cigar and Beer Dinners in the odd months, and they often team up with local wineries and distilleries for wine dinners and whiskey dinners.
“We have our St. Patrick’s Day Whiskey Dinner coming up, and that’s with 1675 Spirits, who just started up, and they’re about a mile down the road,” Camillia says. “We try to keep it very local.”
“We are very event-heavy,” Camillia says. “It definitely keeps things fresh, and we love doing it, too. It brings in a different clientele that may not have known about us.”
Nonetheless, they’re churning out great food and killer beers.
“It’s not just your run-of-the-mill domestic beers,” Camillia says. “We try to do events with breweries so there’s always something new and fresh going on. It’s always fun and upbeat.”
They currently have twelve lines with 96 staples in bottles and cans, including Coastal Evacuation.
“That’s our Cape May staple,” Camillia says. “It did really well in the summer — it’s so crisp and fresh. A lot of the double IPAs are a lot heavier, but Coastal has that nice, juicy flavor to it. People really gravitated toward that.”
They’ve had quite a few of our beers on. Camillia admits to having gone on a “Cape May kick.”
“I knew I’d liked Always Ready because we’d had that before,” she says. “Honestly, anything that you guys have had in kegs in Pennsylvania, I’ve had here. We recently had Devil’s Reach on draft, and people loved that one. People like the Cape May name. They’re willing to try whatever’s on from Cape May.”
In addition, they have live music every weekend.
“We have a lot of acoustic covers and duos,” Camillia says, “but we also have funk bands on the first Friday of the month, we’ve had country singers here. One time, we had a guy who just brought a karaoke machine, but we were on board. He danced on the bar, on the tables!”
However, they pride themselves on being a family-friendly restaurant in addition to being a craft beer bar.
“The food is, honestly, what makes this place,” Camillia says. “The beer and the music you can find anywhere else, but the fact that we’re a scratch kitchen and we’re making our dressings in-house and we’re hand-forming burgers every day — you can’t find that anywhere else around here.”
“I wanted to take that mentality of fine dining to pub-style food,” Max says. “That’s why we have everything made from scratch, but where I would have used white wine or red wine or brandy in a fine dining restaurant, I decided to see what kind of beer I should use instead of the wine.”
At the Cigar and Beer Dinner next week, for $60, you’ll definitely get your fill. They’ll do a shared plate, two entrees, and a truffle flight for dessert. Max certainly outdid himself. We watched, drooling, as each order came out of the kitchen throughout the interview, but when he came to the table with the entrees that they’ll be pairing, we were astonished.
They’ll be pairing a Sweet Chili Glazed Mahi Mahi with Pineapple Salsa with Always Ready and an Apricot Ginger IPA-Braised Pork Osso Bucco with Smoked Gouda Polenta with Cape May IPA.
“In the Mahi-Mahi,” Max explains, “you’ll have a balance of the sweet, spicy, and fruity. The sauce gives you the sweet and a little of the sour, but the spice and the sweet are really what counterbalance the beer. The Pineapple Salsa just adds a little freshness to it, almost mimicking the flavors of the beer to balance it out.”
Perfection. The dish smelled out-of-this-world and tasted even better. The fruitiness and sweetness of the sweet chili sauce was perfect with Always Ready, and the spiciness thoroughly balanced out the entire meal. Served with excellently-steamed broccoli and rice, it was a fantastic light dish.
“For the Pork Osso Bucco, we braise it and cook it off for about three hours,” Max said. “We use fresh ginger and garlic, the IPA, and a little tomato. I take the braising liquid and thicken it up and finish it off with a little apricot and candied ginger. You’ll get that subtle spice and some sweetness. I dusted the pork in cinnamon and cloves and salt and pepper to really round out those flavors. With the Mahi-Mahi, I’m trying to have some contrasting flavors to balance it out, but with the Osso Bucco, I’m trying to pull all the flavors in the beer and accent them.”
And don’t be fooled, this is a huge cut of meat. The cinnamon really brought this dish together — it wasn’t overwhelming as unexpected cinnamon can sometimes be, but was perfect with the pork and the apricot. The polenta — sometimes a cloying and heavy side dish — was creamy and, with the smoked gouda, a far cry from your grandmother’s boring polenta.
For dessert, Max tries to change up the flight of truffles for each dinner.
“I’ll do three or four different truffles and I’ll coat them all in something different,” Max says. “With this one, I used a little bit of the beer in the truffle. I’ll try to see if there’s some other things I can coat them in to try to pull some of those other flavors out of the King Porter Stomp.”
The truffles were absolutely perfect. They were so gooey that we had to use a fork to eat them, but, of course, King Porter Stomp, with its chocolate goodness, was a perfect pairing for chocolate truffles.
In addition to pairing food and beer, they’ll also pair cigars with the dinner — as one might expect at an event called a Cigar and Beer Dinner. This is the first time in memory that we’ve participated in such an event, and we were interested to see how it happens.
“We have a good relationship with the local Holt’s outlet that’s down in Northeast Philly,” Max says. “I know a few of the managers there, and, now, we’ve been going there for five or six years.”
Max talks to one of the managers about the flavor profiles that he’ll be using, particularly with the dessert beer.
“He’ll point me in the right direction,” Max says. “It’s always in the Holt’s family that the cigars are from. We’ve been doing it for so long and working within our price point for the dinner, I’ve used nearly every cigar they have in there.”
No worries for the cigar-smoke conscious, though. The pairing dinner is held on the heated patio, out of nasal range from the dining room.
With the kitchen open until 10:30 during the week, midnight on the weekends, you’ll be certain to find something to hit the spot. They have an extensive food menu, with a selection of cheese, meat, and pretzel boards, appetizers, soups and salads, burgers, wraps, and sandwiches, and entrees — each of which has a beer pairing suggested on the menu.
“That was something we wanted to start with out of the gate,” Max says. “We wanted to incorporate the beer and food side of things, rather than approaching them as two separate entities, looking at it as one experience.”
Their Cheddar-Ale Bacon Burger — a half-pound burger smothered in cheddar-ale sauce, topped with bacon and crispy, fried onions — is the highlight of their menu, having won Best Burger in Bucks County, Best in Philly, and multiple other awards.
“Pickles? Cranberries? Live your best life,” Camillia jokes.
“You see it all,” Max says. “Black beans, sweet chili sauce. It’s a fun one to play with.”
If you’re unable to make it to the Cigar and Beer Dinner next week, Sales Manager Erin Gale will be back to the Dog & Bull on March 8th for a beer class, explaining food and beer pairings — how to pair beer and food and why some pairings work better than others.
Regardless of whether or not you can make it to these events, definitely make a point to check out the Dog & Bull.
“The three pillars of the business are our pub-style food, the craft beer, and the live music,” Max says, “but I think what helps us be successful is that we offer a quality product and quality service in a laid-back atmosphere, without the pretentiousness you might get in other places.”
For more information, see their website at www.dogandbullhouse.com, or call (215) 788-2855.