Taking a small (maple) leaf from the popular The Fox & Fiddle chain of pubs North of the Border, husband-and-wife team Kurt Gardner and Carmen Shaw—Canadian expats and longtime Rancho Mirage residents—are the savvy restaurateurs who obtained the right to establish their version of the brand throughout California. Their first outpost opened February 20 at The River in the space formerly occupied by Sam’s Sushi.
The expansive space has been reconfigured with a big bar, nine overhead flat screen TVs, standalone tables, and banquettes fashioned out of long, butterscotch-colored, tufted leather couches. “The Den” is a party room that can accommodate almost 40 guests. It functions as communal dining on busy nights when no large groups have requested it.
The eclectic ornamental accents—all handpicked by Carmen—include unique lighting fixtures, vintage art in baroque frames, and a fabulous stuffed moose head. You’d think the latter was an ode to the Old Country (since the animal is emblematic of Canada) but rather, it was found in a Rancho Mirage vintage store, as were most of the other decorative pieces.
On the night I visited with a friend, the place—less than a week old at that point—was hopping. No, this is not your British grandfather’s pub. It’s a modern re-envisioning that wishes to become “the secular heart of the community,” per a quote on the menu’s cover page.
And speaking of the fare, as one would expect, it’s delicious comfort food. We started with the Scotch Egg (house-made) and Classic Poutine (a Québec staple consisting of fries, dark gravy, and curd cheese) as appetizers before making our way to the Cubano Sandwich (ham, roast shoulder, gruyere, and a jalapeño mustard mayo served on a focaccia with a cup of chicken noodle soup) and Shepherds Pie (a twist on the original that is looser and uses a customized lamb/beef grind). For dessert we chose to split the Sticky Toffee Pudding (the Fiddle’s in-house baker’s rendering of bread pudding, served with caramel and chocolate sauces plus vanilla ice cream). Yes, this joint has its own baker—a woman who makes all of its breads and buns in addition to a supposedly divine cheesecake.
If you’re looking for a new neighborhood haunt, you’ve found it. There’s great music playing, and those TV screens don’t just show sports but old movies or special events like the Oscars. The libations list has a generous assortment of traditional and house-concocted cocktails plus draught and bottled beer, and wine. Happy Hour is every day from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Oh, and ask for Vee! She’s one of those solid, knowledgeable servers who helps you navigate a new establishment.
I’ll be back soon to sample the flatbreads, chicken wings, and nachos. In fact, the sandwiches, burgers, and main dishes like the Steak & Chips or Perogies with Onion Gravy and Sour Cream could keep me busy for many an afternoon or evening. Then there’s that cheesecake I’ve promised myself to try next time around…