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(Ale) house of Windsor 

Liz Feltham went to Hants County for beer and dancing but stayed for the food.

I originally popped by the Spitfire Arms in Windsor to see a local band called Staggers and Jags, but by the time we jagged it in and staggered out of there, the food had stolen the show.

The Spitfire Arms is not some half-assed attempt at a pub, either. (You know the type. A dark room with fish and chips and a couple of beers on tap does not a pub make.) Spitfire's owner, Troy Kirkby, has a vision and has gone to great lengths to make the place a true destination.

The Spitfire pays homage to the legendary British fighter plane, with its decor featuring Kirkby's private collection of memorabilia, which borders on being museum-like. A long bar divides the pub in half, with comfortable tables, booths and a small area for live music. There's huge variety of international brews on tap---I lost count of the taps.

At first glance, the pub menu doesn't appear all that exciting; there's the usual profusion of frozen snack things like potato skins, chicken fingers and wings, an uninspired selection of pastas and nothing that really jumps out at you. Oh, no wait---some of the sandwiches look interesting, with flavours like hoisin beef and teriyaki chicken. But we're hungry this evening, and looking for heartier fare.

We take the edge off with some starters: seafood chowder ($7.95) and smoked salmon ($8.95). The menu claims the seafood chowder is one of the "most popular" dishes, and I don't doubt it. Full of salmon, shrimp and scallops, the broth is very creamy without being too thick. Smoked salmon comes traditionally dressed with red onions and capers, and there's nothing wrong with that.

We focus on the Best of Britain menu section for our main courses and order Cockney Fish and Chips ($9.95), the Big Ben Burger ($8.95) and Steak and Guinness Pie ($9.95).

Upon first bite of the food, the band fades away in the background and a whole new tune starts in my mouth. The fish and chips are a well-done classic, complete with beer batter and homemade tartar sauce. Hand-cut fries complete the picture.

On to the burger. We've waited what seems to be an especially long time for our food, and now I know why. The huge beef patty is not your typical frozen disc of nondescript meat by-product, but a hand formed, thick, well-seasoned round of fabulous ground.

A Caesar salad with decent dressing (although I would have loved more garlic, and a shot more lemon juice), plenty of parmesan and very fresh romaine is on the side.

And finally, the steak and Guinness pie. Tender chunks of beef, plenty of mushrooms and onions swimming in a rich, dark Guinness stout gravy: absolutely fabulous. A golden brown flaky round of puff pastry sits atop the stew.

The portions are big, and we certainly can't manage anything else; our interest returns to the band and the beer, and those around us.

It's obvious there are a lot of regulars here, as the servers and bartenders greet many by name, and I must note that we're treated equally well.

The Spitfire Arms is certainly worth the trip out from Halifax. Be sure to have a designated driver if you're planning on enjoying all of the tap offerings, or stay the night in Windsor and drop back for the brunch.

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