“You can’t go wrong” with a plate of poutine.
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Stout people?

My first encounter with these guys was a heady night in June, at Stout Public House at Sixth and C. It seemed like all of Canada had turned up to drink the Vancouver Canucks on to victory over the Boston Bruins.

Or, as it turned out, horrible defeat. But not for lack of trying. You could hear the roar from the Fifth Avenue trolley stop, which is how I came over in the first place.

Stout’s an Irish pub that somehow seems to have been adopted by the hockey community. ’Specially Canadians. And — if you believe Dave LaSorte and Nick Coombes and John Cadwell, all sitting out on the sidewalk patio — by a pretty intellectual group of locals and expats.

“I was going to live in Little Italy,” John Cadwell says. “Then I took one look at this pub, and I knew: I’m home. Now I live right nearby, at Fifth and Broadway.”

“I come down from Tustin for this place,” says Big Nick Coombes. He’s an expat Englishman. “Ninety miles. I’m thinking of moving.”

“Here you are cherished and nurtured,” says Dave LaSorte. “They care about you. And people talk about interesting stuff. One minute it’s Shakespeare, Friedman, Marx; the next, W.C. Fields. We used to have a big round table out here. Called it the Stoutgonquin Round Table…you know, like the Algonquin Round Table? Dorothy Parker? New York City literati?”

“Round table,” I say. “Like, King Arthur?”

“Sort of,” says Dave.

John retreats to his Guinness.

Shrieks come from inside. The Bruins have scored a fourth one against the can’t-do Canucks.

Then I hear rumbles, only these are from inside — inside me. Gut’s been running on empty all day.

“Any ideas for food?” I ask Dave. “Anything Canadian?”

“Well, you can’t go wrong with poutine,” he says. “French fries, bean curds, and brown gravy. It’s a dish outta Quebec. Good price, too.

The lone server, Stephanie, has just fought her way out through the crush at the door. She staggers a moment, looks up as if to say, “Am I still alive?”

“Could you get us another of those excellent calamari?” Nick asks. He has a long plate with the remains of a first serving. He looks at me. “Happy-hour deal.” He says it costs $4.75.

But I order a poutine — $4 —while I look at other possibilities. Stephanie has left a menu.

“Any ideas?” I ask again.

“The pork chops and the flatiron steak sandwich are particularly good,” John says.

I check down the menu. “Stout pork chop, topped with house-made green apple apricot chutney.” Comes with mashed potatoes and organic veggies. Sounds great, except for the price, $16.

The flatiron steak sandwich might be better, a special at $8.95. Cheapest is the happy-hour stuff. Standard wings or tenders go for $3.75. But I’m not in the mood for that. Black mussels (from Carlsbad, in white wine and garlic sauce, or curry and lemongrass) are doable at the happy-hour price of $4.75 (normally $9.50). Most Irish-pub fare (fish and chips, corned beef and cabbage, Guinness stew) costs $11; the shepherd’s pie and chicken pot pie are $10.50 each.

I head back to the sandwich column. Grilled chicken sandwich is $8, a Reuben is $9, and the “Stout burger,” a half-pounder, costs $8, with fries and a pickle spear.

That’ll do me jes’ fine. When Stephanie bursts through the phalanx again, holding her tray high and head low, I see she has my poutine aboard. Looks good, fries gunked up with gravy, curds, tomato, cheese, and some salad.

I nail that Stout burger order, ask Stephanie to add bacon to it (75 cents).

Then I grab some of the fries. Nothing mysterious here, gravy and fries, white chunks of bean curd on top. It’s nice. “Canadian comfort food,” says Dave “Dabbles” Riddle. “We need that about now.” Pretty soon we’re all sharing them, along with Nick’s second batch of calamari.

The news gets worse and worse for the Canucks. And then it’s over. Season’s over too. Suddenly, this guy behind the bar reaches down and hoists a full-size Stanley Cup over his head. Everyone’s going ape.

Out here on the sidewalk patio, hard-core regulars stand around talking, as if it’s a wake. “We’ve become hockey central,” Mark Prendergast, the Irish co-owner (with Dave Toth, a Canadian), tells me. “All the Canadian snowbirds come in, and Eastern Europeans, and lots of Russians. They’re all united by a love of hockey.”

Mark and Dave met on a dive boat over the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in 1989. They kept in touch and got this bar going four years ago, and, Mark says, it’s grown from an Irish pub into a Canadian/Irish East Coast–style bar. With a gang of customers who take ownership of “their” pub seriously. But nothing exclusive: “You can come in and make lifelong friends,” says Mark. “I’ve seen it again and again.”

Oh, Lord. All these appetizers have filled me up. “Could you pack it?” I ask Stephanie, when she arrives, haggard-looking, through the loss-crazed crowds — well, I exaggerate, just a tad — with my burger.

As they say, if looks could kill.

And the burger? When I get home, Carla and I fight over it like hungry dogs. Even after surviving the trolley and the bus and a couple of blocks of walk-jog, the toasted, seeded bun is crunchy-crispy. Inside, the patty’s big, loose, juicy, and garlicky, surrounded by greens, red onion, and more sloppy poutine fries. Maybe those Canucks shoulda had one of these before they went out and played.

One thing’s for sure: I’m going back. For the company, and for a glass of, uh, stout at Stout. Big Nick says they’re the best Guinness pourers in town. ■

The Place: Stout Public House, 1125 Sixth Avenue downtown, near C, 619-702-7933
Type of Food: American, Irish, Canadian pub food
Prices: Poutine (fries and gravy), $4; happy-hour wings or tenders, $3.75; black Carlsbad mussels in white wine and garlic sauce, $9.50 ($4.75, happy hour); Irish-style fish and chips, $11; corned beef and cabbage, $11; shepherd’s pie, $10.50, Guinness stew, $11; chicken pot pie, $10.50; Stout burger (half-pounder), $8
Kitchen Hours: 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., daily
Happy Hour: 4:00–8:00 p.m., Monday–Friday; till 7:00 p.m., Saturday–Sunday
Buses: all downtown
Nearest Bus Stop: Broadway at Sixth
Trolleys: Blue Line, Orange Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: Fifth Avenue

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