The more the merrier

The more the merrier

Lucky Baldwin's opens Trappiste Pub and Brits is reborn as Little Britain

By Erica Wayne 04/26/2012

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The original Lucky Baldwin was a famed Irish entrepreneur, horseman and land baron here in Southern California. His good fortune extended beyond business. Married four times and twice shot at by spurned lovers (they missed), he finally died an octogenarian in 1909.  
Baldwin’s influence is commemorated by the many places that bear his name: e.g., Baldwin Hills, Baldwin Avenue and Lucky Baldwin’s, which started as a sandwich shop back in the 1970s and morphed into an appealing café and pub on Raymond Avenue, south of Colorado Boulevard, a second (the L.B. Delirium Pub) in Sierra Madre and more recently yet a third (L.B. Trappiste Pub) on East Colorado, just west of Allen Avenue.
I’ll bet if he were around today, Baldwin would like these restaurants at least as well as Baldwin Hills. They all serve roughly the same menu with “pub grub,” including fish and chips (half order $10.25/ full order $14.50). Here,  Icelandic cod is dipped in a traditional ale batter and deep-fried is served with a massive order of fries, a spoonful of peas and a dose of strong malt vinegar.
Meat pies ($12.50) are also served and also come with sides of chips and peas. Unlike the Sweeney Todd variety, these pies have bona fide traditional fillings: chicken and vegetable or steak and mushroom. Frankly, they’re somewhat bland. I much prefer cottage pie (a delicious ground beef and mashed potato concoction, also $12.50). 
Other offerings include my favorite ploughman’s lunch (chunks of cheddar and stilton, a French roll, pickled onion, salad and Branston pickle - $11.50), curry ($12.50) and individual “pizzetas” ($10.50). If this last item doesn’t exactly transport you to the heart of London like the others, it’s still well made. So, by the way, is the L.B. Caesar salad ($6.75).
Desserts used to be fairly limited, with the only listed sweets being homemade pie served with custard and rice pudding. These have been joined by treacle pudding with custard (each $4.50), bread and butter pudding ($4.95) and Belgian chocolate mousse ($5.50).
And, as for beverages, with the number of beers either bottled or on tap nearing 100, there’s no need to ask, just incredibly hard decisions to make!
We’d been to both the Old Pasadena and the Sierra Madre L.B. branches but never to the East Pasadena location, which is conveniently close to our home and, coincidentally, took over the space vacated by another of our favorite British pubs (Brits) with a similar menu and ambiance. Lucky Baldwin opened its third set of doors last year. We got there last Tuesday.
They’ve done a fair bit of remodeling. The Brits bar used to be on the west side (now it’s on the east) and the upper part of the wall, between the bar and restaurant areas, has been removed. I stopped counting TVs at six (there may be more), most were tuned to the Lakers game, two were on soccer highlights. Dark wood, brick walls, lots of signs advertising Belgian beers, semi-cozy but certainly not quiet, the place is perfect for youngish (PCC? Caltech?) denizens.
We ordered an appetizer duo of chicken and veggie curry pasties ($8.50) expecting small savories. Instead we got dumplings as big as breakfast croissants with the same kind of lovely flaky dough. The only problem was that both fillings were essentially the same (a smattering of chicken differentiated them) and neither tasted at all of curry.
One entrée was (naturally) fish and chips (the cod and its coating about as good as it gets, the chips large but rather pallid). We also ordered mussels in Hoegaarden Witbier ($14.95), 12 meaty green-lipped mollusks basking in a bath of oniony, garlicky, exquisitely fragrant broth. But, somehow, things were a bit off.
The chips that came with the mussels were set down on the table about five minutes before the rest of the food and were cold by the time we went to eat them. And the half-loaf of French bread was so dry it was useless for sopping. With no spoon in sight, we devoured the fish, packed everything else up to reheat the next night (great leftovers!) and enjoyed our pints of Belgian ale.
Dessert (a shared treacle pudding) made up for any inadequacies in the main meal. It came to the table steaming hot, somewhat unprepossessing in looks (the size and shape of a smallish baked potato) but immensely sweet (as the name implies) and satisfying nonetheless. And the warm vanilla custard coating it brought out the best in both. 
The last time we dined at Brits before it closed, our Scottish friends, David and Aileen, were visiting and were delighted to join us for pub fare. We had sausage rolls done up in fine puff pastry that would do a French boulangerie proud, curried veggie samosas (miniature turnovers of short pastry filled with fragrant potato/green pea curry), and fish and chips that were easily the equal of Lucky Baldwin’s.
And while all the Lucky Baldwins are great fun, with head-spinning numbers of intriguing brews and good to excellent food, we were still kind of sad to see Brits leave. So, it’s great to know that the owners have opened up a smaller version of their former restaurant just a few blocks north (on Allen and Villa Street). It’s called Little Britain, and its menu is essentially the same as the one it served at the Colorado location.
Little Britain doesn’t have a beer and wine license, so it’s BYOB and an awful lot quieter than Lucky Baldwin’s Trappiste Pub. But the food’s every bit as good as it was before. Oddly enough, David and Aileen are coming again for a two-week visit in early June. And since we’re within walking distance, you can bet we’ll be taking them to both venues before they go home. 


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