By Bonnie Williamson
You don’t have to go across the pond (the Atlantic Ocean for those who don’t know) to get a taste of food well known to British palates. The Devonshire Arms Cafe and Pub at 107 S. Princess Street in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, combines the atmosphere of a pub serving tasty British fare and American favorites for the past nine years.
The restaurant was named in honor of its owner’s home county in England, Devon or Devonshire. Carolyn Litwack was born in the city of Plymouth on the south coast of Devon about 240 miles from London.
Litwack studied graphic design and worked in that field most of her life. She lived in different countries including Italy, Ireland and Iran before eventually coming to the states. She lived in Fairfax, Virginia, visited friends in Shepherdstown and purchased the building that was to become the future home of the Devonshire Arms. The structure was built in 1900, functioning as a site where horse drawn carriages were constructed and repaired.
“I use my old traditional British recipes for the menu,” Litwack says.
British dishes found on the menu include Bangers and Mash: two large English sausages (about the size of hotdogs), baked in Guinness, which is an Irish stout, mashed potatoes, gravy and baked beans or peas; Cornish Pasty and salad: beef, potato, onion with spices wrapped in pastry; Cottage Pie also known as Shepherd’s Pie: local beef cooked with white wine, carrots, peas, onions, and spices with a potato and cheese topping; and, of course, Fish and Chips: Yuengling battered haddock with hand cut English chips served with tartar sauce and coleslaw. Sometimes on special occasions Litwack will have something called Bubble and Squeak, a traditional British breakfast made from boiled potatoes and cabbage.
“The cabbages squeak when they’re fried so that’s part of the name,” Litwack says.
A breakfast item many Americans have never experienced is the Full English Breakfast or Fry Up: two eggs, bacon, sausages, home fries, grilled tomato, grilled mushrooms, baked beans, and toast.
Some desserts offered include a Victoria sponge cake; a Bakewell tart, a short crust pastry shell beneath layers of jam, frangipane, and a topping of flaked almonds; sticky toffee pudding; and a Banoffee made from bananas, cream and toffee, combined either on a buttery biscuit base or one made from crumbled biscuits and butter with chocolate.
Customers can celebrate special occasions with a traditional afternoon tea at the Devonshire. This usually takes place around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. in the afternoon. Reservations are required for this treat, which consists of a pot of imported tea, scones, jam and Devonshire cream, assorted sandwiches, savories and cakes. Guests can enjoy afternoon tea at any time, but are asked to call ahead.
American fare also on the menu includes wings that are a special Monday night; pub burgers; a classic BLT; a Reuben; and chicken and fish wraps. In addition, soups, quiches and salads are available and change daily. The Kids Menu features old favorites like macaroni and cheese with hot dog bites; and beanie weenies, baked beans with hot dog bites.
To add to the restaurant’s pub-like atmosphere, bands appear on most weekends. One such rock band is Fable Circuit. Appearances are listed on Facebook. Mimi Tornari, who has been manager of restaurant for two years, said last year a band in kilts was on hand for Burns Night. This special event is a celebration of the life and poetry of the eighteenth century poet Robert Burns, the author of many Scots poems. The event is held around Burns’ January 25 birthday.
“We even had haggis,” Tornari says.
Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish, which is an acquired taste. Haggis consists of a savory pudding, containing sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock. Vegetarian Haggis can be prepared upon request.
The Devonshire Arms Cafe and Pub also has a full bar to add to that pub feel. The restaurant is small, seating about 38, but Tornari says she likes its size. The atmosphere is friendly and open. Guests can grab a pint or have a mixed cocktail.
“We all call Carolyn Mum,” Tornari says, smiling. “We’re referred to as The Dev. We have some regulars like students from nearby Shepherd University who come in here to study.”
“You can come here and actually have a conversation, which you can’t do at a lot of bars,” Litwack says. “If I’m here, I try to get conversations started by introducing people.”
The restaurant has the Union Jack, the British flag, as well as the American flag displayed out front, distinguishing it from other local eateries. Inside are murals depicting scenes of London with Big Ben and the red telephone booths made famous by the British “Dr. Who” television series
“A gentleman came in one day and sat at the bar. He asked me why I didn’t have a picture of the queen on the wall. He then returned and brought me one,” Litwack says.
Music from the Swinging Sixties, a youth-driven cultural revolution that took place in the United Kingdom during the mid-to-late 1960s, plays in the Devonshire, featuring groups like The Beatles.
“I was in London at that time,” says Litwack.
Litwack has a road sign from Abbey Road on the wall, and she’d like to get more.
Many customers come in because they are interested in England or have been there.
“We remind them of the pubs they went to,” Litwack says.
The Devonshire Arms Cafe and Pub is open from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Monday to Friday; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m.
British cooking is definitely making a name for itself at The Dev. So if you’re looking for some good British cuisine, you don’t have to travel far. Cheerio and pip, pip!