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Cheap Eats: The White Horse Pub

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The Scotch egg at the White Horse Pub / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

The White Horse Pub's Scotch egg / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

A "black hole." That's how my buddy, Dennis, described the lunchtime scene around University Parkway.

We were trying to find an inexpensive, tasty, locally owned joint for a confab about, well, a lot of things: the decline of the American reader, the sorry state of the journalism industry, finding the energy to write fiction after a day spent writing for a living... you get the idea. A chance to trade book recommendations and bitch. Dennis edits The Bradenton Times, the indispensable online guide to all things Manatee County, and is a passionate, well-read, hyper-vocal fellow with smart things to say about pretty much everything.

After much head-scratching, I suggested The White Horse Pub, the cozy, wood-paneled restaurant that used to be the Coach & Horses, right near Parkway Cinema (the dollar theater which is now a $2.50 theater.) The Coach & Horses was near and dear to my heart for its righteous Buffalo wings, while Dennis loved the place for its Scotch egg. We both wanted to see if the new spot measured up, so it was agreed: We set out to discover whether you can, indeed, go home again.

Short answer: You can.

The restaurant remains largely the same. The same bar and TV setup sits on the left side, while a row of wooden booths lines the right side, below a photo series of black-and-white, Bass-sponsored horse porn.

The place is deserted when I walk in (probably because of the tornado-warning weather I drove through to get here), and the service is prompt and friendly. Dennis and I order what we came for, and settle in. I'm a little concerned. Did my esteem for Coach & Horses' wings grow too much since the place closed down? Was I remembering it as exceptional just due to nostalgia? I steel myself to be disappointed.

Which is stupid, because, just as the decor remains the same, so do the wings. I drool when they come out. They're huge. These can't come from just a humble chicken. A pterodactyl, maybe. Ten of them, drenched in "fiery" sauce, come piled on a rectangular white plate with the obligatory celery and carrots and blue cheese dip. My face quickly becomes an orange, greasy mess, and I'm burning through napkins at an alarming rate.

It may seem silly to get so excited about good Buffalo wings. They're idiotically simple — just fried chicken tossed in a spicy sauce. But if they're so simple to make, how come so many places are so terrible at making them? They're usually gelatinous instead of crispy, bland rather than spicy. Not at the White Horse, though. Here, the crunchy skin and breading sings through the slathering of sauce, which is properly burning up my taste buds.

Dennis is less ravenous in his assault on his food, but he's clearly pleased. The key to a good Scotch egg, he says, is managing the competing textures just right. The egg inside must be cooked perfectly so that it stays moist while at the same time standing up to the beef in which it is encased. "The integrity of the egg" is all-important, he says. That's what allows "the tangy-ness of the egg to contrast with the unctuousness of the meat." Does it live up to Coach & Horses' version? "It was just as good," he affirms.

Sometimes the universe crushes your hopes and dreams, and sometimes it comes through for you. After two hours of gabbing, I leave with a long list of book recommendations (John O'Hara, Richard Ford, Thomas McGuane) and the satisfaction of knowing that sometimes good things stay good.

This is the umpteenth entry in Cheap Eats, a weekly column dedicated to eats that are cheap. If you have an idea for a place to feature, comment below, email me at cheapeatssrq@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter: @LeveyBaker.

White Horse Pub
6240 N. Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota
358-1353, the-white-horse-pub.com
Last modified: September 13, 2013
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