Staggers walks the line

The price is right at downtown Dartmouth’s Staggers Pub & Grub, where you can get a homey lunch for under 10 bucks.

This homemade burger platter is seven dollars well-spent.
This homemade burger platter is seven dollars well-spent.

Staggers Pub & Grub
26 Portland Street, 902-406-3661

Tina Turner is rasping her way through one of her hits as we wander into Staggers, a small pub on the Alderney end of Portland Street. It was $7 lunch specials that lured us here. It's a pretty irresistible price.

We sit at a table by windows that seem barely obvious on the street. We're in a pool of sunlight, so our little corner feels cheery. It's a classic pub. Wood tables are covered in fitted, wine-coloured coverings and sturdy wooden captain armchairs, dart boards, pool tables and a karaoke machine are filling the checkerboard floor space until you reach the bar that's tucked into the back of the room.

There's only one other table seated in the restaurant, also tucked in under the windows at the front. Our server makes the long trek from the back of the bar to us, bringing menus and water. There is a pretty broad menu—pub favourites like chicken wings, fish and chips and nachos, and unexpected dishes like a quinoa salad and an all-day breakfast—but we really focus on the small list of lunch specials.

Our server returns a few minutes later to check in on us. I ask about the lasagna, wondering if it can hold up to the classics like the burger ($7) and chicken fingers ($7) that Rachelle and Hilary are getting. Staggers cooks everything from scratch, she says, so she stands by the lasagna. In fact, she says, a regular at the other table actually ordered it today. She gives a shout over asking if he likes it. He gives a thumbs-up, and echoes that "it's great." I'm sold.

We chat as we're waiting for our food, but within a few minutes I can't help but overhear a conversation at the next table over. The guy who just recommended the lasagna tells his friend that the lasagna kind of sucks. "It tastes canned," he says. Huh.

Our expectations are exceeded at first sight: Everything looks exactly how you'd expect, if not a little better. The fries, especially, look fantastic. They look a lot like those McCain "homestyle" fries, but they are fried to a perfect, dark golden brown so nobody really cares if there's a shortcut in play on our $7 home- cooked plate.

There are only two chicken fingers on the lunch platter, but they are fat strips of tender chicken breast, coated and fried a super crisp dark brown. They are pretty great, more than worth the money.

The burger is huge. Rachelle added cheese ($1.25). There is too much bun. The lettuce is crisp, but the tomatoes are mealy, so thrown to the side pretty quickly. The burger itself is a plump homemade patty, seared well, still juicy. Seven bucks well spent.

The lasagna is OK. The tomato sauce, which is a very basic homespun ragù of ground beef, is pretty lightly seasoned, just a step beyond canned tomatoes. I'd rather that than the flat, tinny taste of too much dried oregano (I'm a thyme-in-tomato sauce gal), so it works for me. There's a little bit of spinach tucked inside, along with some lumps of cottage cheese. There seems to be about a pound and a half of mozzarella melted on top. A bit of time under the broiler to crisp up the top would probably encourage forgiveness of any sins. The garlic toast sure doesn't. It's floppy halved ciabatta, not toasted long enough. I didn't love it. But what's love got to do with it? I got what I paid for.

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