Monday, April 17, 2006

The Plough & Stars - New and Improved?

The Plough & Stars is a Cambridge institution, opened in 1969, beloved by Cantabridgians of all ages over 21 and all walks of life. Its lively atmosphere, great bands, televised soccer matches and perfect Guinness pours attract a quirky, diverse clientele.

About 9 or 10 months ago, they closed for renovations and it was beginning to look like it was the end for the Plough. But thankfully that was not the case. A few weeks ago the Plough reopened. While I was happy to hear this news, I was worried about what the new owners had done to the place. Would the walls still be covered with the line drawing portraits of bar patrons? Would the bands still be squished so close to the restrooms that the base player could tell you whether or not they were occupied? Would there still be a great mix of working class folks, soccer fans, students and professionals? I suppose there was only one way to find out. To go ahead and check it out.

On approaching The Plough, everything looked the same from the outside. As you can see from the photo, there was a throwback dude checking out the menu so that made me feel better. They haven't alienated the Plough crowd. Good sign. But when I stepped up to look over the menu, I realized that they were now serving dinner, lunch and brunch. Dinner? I had never thought about eating at the Plough in the past even though they used to have lunch there. Just didn't seem like that was their forté so to speak. But hey, it's a new day, a new Plough. Give it a chance.

When I walked inside, the layout looked pretty much the same. Bar to the left, tables to the right, in the back and tucked in near the front entrance. But the portraits on the wall were replaced by faux painted red walls and a Guinness ad. Sad. New tables and chairs, a long bench built into the wall and refinished hardwood floors spiffed the place up. A plus. A wall now separates the rest of the bar from the restrooms. Big improvement. Now the bass player can focus on playing instead of monitoring bathroom activity.

Seeing people sitting at tables with menus was definitely odd. And the crowd? Seemed a little clean cut and dare I say trendy but it was early. I don't think the changes are drastic enough to alienate the regulars. Thank God. What's on the menu? A nice range of items, from Cuban Sandwiches, Creole Wings and a Banger Press (grilled Irish sausage with mustard cheddar and tomato) to Pan-seared Halibut with chorizo polenta, garlicky greens and smoked tomato coulis (think they went a little crazy there). While most prices are very reasonable, I kind of have a hard time forking out $17 for an entrée there. But maybe I have too much baggage from the old place. New people probably won't think twice about it.

We tried out two of the entrées: the special, Blackened Catfish with black beans and rice (picture above) and the Roasted Half Chicken with asparagus spears and mashed potatoes. Our meal took forever to come. The waitress informed us that for some reason the Roasted Chicken takes a really long time to cook. I'm sure they'll work that out over time. Thankfully, the food was worth the wait. Really good. Better than I expected. I was impressed.

My first reaction was to turn my nose up at the new place. "The Plough has gone upscale!" But once I had my meal, I realized that this is a new Plough that I will still frequent to get a beer (a great selection as always) and take in some live music. And now I think I'll actually even go there for lunch occasionally (something I would have never done in the past) or to grab a Friday night dinner. While there are many great upscale dining options in the Central Square area, there really isn't a classic Irish pub that serves good food. So it's nice to now have that option. As long as the same fun, eclectic crowds and great bands continue on, I'll be happy. Change can be good.

The Plough & Stars
912 Massachusetts Avenue, Central Square, Cambridge, MA, 617.576.0032
It's about a 5-minute walk from the Central Square "T" stop or take the #1 bus down Mass Ave. and get off at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Hancock Street.


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