It was a dreary and muggy Sunday afternoon when the Food with Friends team pulled into Conway’s Family Pub, and the rain made it the perfect weather to bond over some traditional Irish food and good company.
Unfortunately, Evan was feeling a bit under the weather, which meant I was back in the saddle as the Food with Friends alternate. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a pub, or public house, is a local social drinking establishment that is a large part of various British influenced cultures. Some even say they are the hearts of their towns, a place to meet, eat, drink and socialize, which sounds like the perfect place for the Food with Friends team.
The first thing to note is the friendly staff, who greeted us warmly while we waited for Allison and Jamie to show up, and made sure we had something cold to drink while we hung out at the bar. Unfortunately, not a beer.
A Currently Dry Pub
We were then introduced to some members of their team. The brewer for Conway’s is Sam Sorrells, formerly of Gordon Creek Brewery. To the right of the entrance is a glass window looking into their brewery room, which is unfortunately not in use right now as they are ironing out some legalities. The future plans are to have four beers they brew in house on tap: a porter, an Irish red, a cream ale and a revolving door of small-batch beers. Sam previously brewed out of the smallest brewery in America, coming in at only 100 square feet. His new space with Conway’s, now a roomy 200 square feet, has three brew kettles ready and waiting. They also have Terry Jordan, formerly of Patio 44 and previous Best of the Pine Belt winner for Best Bartender, on staff. I definitely think Hattiesburg has a lot to look forward to once they can get their alcohol operations moving forward.
The larger plans for the future are for an active senior living community called The Colony, located directly behind Conway’s in a gated community. Made up of star-shaped apartments, currently with plans for their kitchen to take care of some meals for the residents, residents will also have easy access to the Longleaf Trace and various exercise opportunities. With its convenient location, it’s sure to be a success.
But anyway, we’re here to talk about the food, right?
I Mentioned the Bisque
Chef Josh Mathias came to introduce himself and some of his team and brought us our menu items. We were first treated to three appetizers: – Wee Scotch Eggs, Goat Cheese Curds and Yellowfin Tuna with Mango Salsa. Wee Scotch Eggs are quail eggs, hard-boiled, then wrapped in sausage, then fried in panko crumbs, and finally, served with their house-made dill sauce and smoked roma tomato sauce. Think marinara, but not as heavy. The tomato sauce had that perfect hint of smoked flavor that set it far apart from the usual tomato sauces served on the side of a fried appetizer. The dill-and-tomato sauces were also served with their fried goat cheese curds, which perfectly melt in your mouth after their fried crunch. The tartness of the goat cheese goes very well with the dill sauce.
We were then brought the yellowfin tuna, which was quite the display with the mango salsa perfectly domed on the side of a fan of beautifully-seared tuna. The mango salsa was well-balanced, with the sweetness of the mango, the vinegar from the pickled red onions, and kick of jalapeno doing quite well on its own. It goes even better with the yellowfin tuna and the sriracha and hoisin that came with it. Brittany is very rarely a fan of seafood, but she went back for seconds on the tuna.
We were also treated to their Shrimp and Crab Bisque, with some of Allison’s favorite royal reds and lump crab. The royal reds were great with the crab, already hearty on its own, but add the creaminess of their sauce, and you’ve got a great start to a meal to share, or a meal on its own.
Do You Like Pie?
Next we got to sample their delightful pies, both served with Irish brown oat bread on the side. First up was their Shepherd’s Pie – vegetables and ground beef with mashed potatoes over top, then baked. The ground beef technically makes this a cottage pie, but who’s going to complain when eating something as good as this? They let us know they were having an issue getting a consistent lamb provider, but as Allison said about the lamb, “I’m not missing it.” Food like this really makes me look forward to a nice, chilly autumn day, when you need to warm up from the cold with some carbs.
Next up was the Fisherman’s Pie, which is so frequently a favorite that when we heard it was 86’d, we were distraught, only to happily find out they had one for us waiting. Their Fisherman’s Pie is made with a golden puff pastry crust over royal reds, grilled sea bass and lump crab in a goat cheese cream sauce. If that sentence wasn’t enough for you to want to try this, I don’t know what will. The large casserole dish that it is served in was happily passed around the Food with Friends team, all going back for more. As Jamie so eloquently put it, “the cheesiness, all that seafood flavor, all that seafood deliciousness.” The goat cheese mixed with the Kerrygold Dubliner made the dish cheesy enough for all of us to enjoy.
We had planned on trying their Fish and Chips, which I’ve heard a lot about, but it’s such a good seller, they had sold out the night before, and as they said, “It’s a good problem to have.” We then sampled their Bangers & Mash, and were delighted to find that the sausage is made in house, which explains why it tasted far better than any commercial sausage I had tried before. As opposed to greasy, this was a light, flavorful sausage that went perfectly with the mashed potatoes and peas that it was served with.
Their desserts are made locally by friends of the restaurant, and today’s Irish whiskey pound cake with lemon curd was definitely made with love. Thick dense pound cake with rich lemon curd and a slice of lemon and whipped cream on the side was the perfect rich end to a rich meal. They also raved about their apple torte and Guinness chocolate cake, but no matter what dessert they have that day, I’m sure it will be great. The team at Conway’s is strong and the Food with Friends team looks forward to seeing them thrive. You’ll be sure to see us there, with a pint, in the future.