I remain convinced that Ashford Pub is one of the great undiscovered gems in Houston. And I like it that way. So why am I writing about it, telling the world of its greatness? Well, it is OTL after all (that’s “outside of Loop 610” for us mouthbreathing knuckledraggers who live in the suburbs). And more than just OTL, it’s OTSL (outside the second Loop — Beltway 8), so I don’t expect it to be rushed by roving gangs of hipsters any time soon, review or not.
Ashford Pub is in a grotty old strip mall off Dairy Ashford, between Memorial Drive and Interstate 10. For being in a relatively wealthy area of town, both Ashford and its host strip mall are incongrously seedy looking, as are most businesses along this stretch of Dairy Ashford. Maybe that’s why I like it.
Inside, low ceilings and dark carpet give the pub an almost den-like feeling. Non-functioning brick fireplaces with wooden mantels at either end of the pool table/darts area and chairs with well-worn cushions only add to that sense. The bar is small but well-stocked, with friendly bartenders and your average assortment of regulars, and the entire place feels like you’ve stepped into your neighbor’s basement. It’s a welcoming feeling.
Every Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m., Ashford hosts a trivia night. This isn’t your fancy, hand-held, television-screen, compete-with-random-people-in-Buffalo trivia, though. This is old-school trivia, called out over a scratchy microphone and written down on sheets of paper that are turned in at the end of the game. Twenty questions, three bonus questions, all deceptively difficult.
Teams competing range from white collar types who just got off work at Technip or BP America or Chevron, blue collar types who play pool in between questions, retirees with walkers and portable oxygen tanks (who comprise a particularly tough team to beat: Van’s Vandals), your run-of-the-mill stoners and burnouts, and neighborhood regulars young and old. Each team speaks in hushed whispers as they consult one another over the trickier questions, no one wanting to reveal a possible answer to the other tables, and then pens begin scribbling furiously as an answer is expelled onto the paper, which is — in turn — quickly and pointedly turned over. People here take their trivia seriously.
But that’s not the only charm of Ashford. If it was, I wouldn’t be writing about it on a food blog. Every Tuesday night when you walk in, you’re greeted by the smell of homemade food. You never know what it’s going to be, but you can count on it being good. Ashford doesn’t have a permit to serve food — or, rather, to charge you for the food they serve — so the food is always free. This could possibly cloud my judgment on how good it truly is, but I like to think that I’m not that easy.
Week after week, the owner hauls in crock pots and chafing dishes and wicker baskets filled with the kind of food you only ever find at church potluck suppers: beef stroganoff with egg noodles, meatloaf with deliriously creamy mashed potatoes, meatballs in gravy with fresh bread for making sandwiches, salisbury steak with a dark mushroom sauce, fried chicken, King Ranch casserole, garden salads with iceberg lettuce and Ranch dressing, red velvet cake, apple pie and — this past week — pumpkin pie with whipped cream. This isn’t Textile or *17. This is the basement at the Columbus Avenue Church of Christ on a Sunday afternoon, intimate and comfortable and redolent of home.
It’s certainly a strange thing to have in a bar — especially one that looks as seedy as Ashford does from the outside — but the thing I love about Ashford is that it isn’t truly a bar. It’s a pub, in the most British sense of the word we Americans can muster. It’s a gathering place for the community, for friends, for families. People don’t come here to drink and party. They come to reconnect. Tuesday Trivia and home-cooked meals are just one example of how Ashford helps to forge and strengthen those bonds.
In our crazy lives, it’s such a relief to walk into a place and just…relax. To be with friends who know me by my real name, not the fancy, trumped-up professional name I’ve used since college. To know which chair I want by sight, since it’s the one that has the softest green cushion because it’s slightly broken. To tease the little Irish bartender about the accent that we still swear is fake after all these years. To see the same smiling faces, week after week and year after year, keeping you grounded. To tell the same old stories, which somehow grow funnier and more grandiose with time.
I hope everyone has a place like Ashford. But if not, come by some time on a Tuesday night. We’ll even let you join our team — we could use the help.