Karen Hubrich will openly state that she’s not a classically trained chef. Despite that, she has certainly lived the life of a bonafide foodie.
She grew up in London, in a household where her parents were avid cooks that often threw dinner parties and they believed in eating “good food.” Her love of cuisine only grew after time spent in Italy, but she credits a restaurant owner on the Greek island of Corfu with her first true kitchen lesson in which they made moussaka.
There’s a lot more to Hubrich’s culinary origin story by our friend Dan Woog, but her past eventually led to chef gigs at the MetroTech Center in Brooklyn and Williams Club in Midtown. After that she was hired as Michael Bolton’s personal chef and had stints at the Fairfield County Hunt Club, as the executive chef for the New York Times dining room, and back to Connecticut to work at the Pequot Yacht Club. To boot, she even ran a private catering business through most of her chef life.
These days, you’ll find Hubrich doing her own thing in Southport. Chances are you’ve driven past Gruel Britannia on the Post Road and likely eased off the gas pedal as you wondered, “What is this?”
At Gruel Britannia, Hubrich is going back to her London roots by cooking British food, a cuisine she once described as “diabolical.” Hubrich’s food is more refined. It’s brighter than the bland browns and beiges we picture when we think of old-world English grub.
Even before you eat anything, once you’re inside her new-age quaint, squeaky clean, bustling dining room, you’ll get the sense that anything diabolical does not exist here! Expectedly, there’s tea (and coffee) with proper vintage china because that’s so English. The imported snacks, Cadbury and Mars bars, HP Sauce, Sarsons Malt Vinegar, and Marmite that’s on the shelves and in the cabinets, all contribute to that across the pond vibe.
When you’re set to order, do it at the counter. It’s a safe bet that the homemade baked goods on display will surely test your willpower. A beautifully decorated cake that’s perched up high and assorted cookies in the case might even make you forget what you wanted to order in the first place! One of those is Gruel’s loaded scone. It’s a got a biscuit-like quality to it, it’s not too sweet, and it’s stuffed with clotted cream, a spread of jam, and bright red sliced strawberries.
Oh. Sorry. Got distracted. Blame it on the scone.
Beyond the scone, there’s plenty to love. Although we arrived at primetime lunch, that didn’t stop us from ordering breakfast. The bacon butty should be your intro to British breakfast, although it’s common in pubs, and for the hangover you’re nursing the day after said pub. It’s thick cut back bacon dashed in sweet, tomatoey, vinegar tang of HP Sauce, served on lightly toasted and buttered brioche. I’d argue that Gruel’s “Britannia Burrito” is on equal footing with the butty in terms of it being hangover food. We skipped it this time, but a breakfast burrito stuffed with back bacon, bangers, scrambled eggs, avocado, cheddar, and curry ketchup is surely going down next time.
Speaking of Gruel Britannia’s bangers…get ‘em. They’re plump and seared perfect to lock in those porky juices. You can have them for breakfast with toast and baked beans or later in the day as you’d expect with mashed potatoes and onion gravy.
Hubrich’s menu has a lot more; there are sandwiches, salads, toasts, and a nod to New England with a lobster roll. But wait! You didn’t think we come this far and not mention fish & chips, did you? Well, friends, it’s solid. It might even be one of the better ones I’ve had around here. OK, I’d like the fries a touch crispier. The fish, though? Spot on golden brown and not overly coated in batter either. It’s adequately greasy (as it should be!), and the cod glistens and flakes apart when you crack that crunchy fried batter.
Now that Gruel Britannia has gotten past its soft opening phase, they’ve grown to include wine, a half dozen cocktails, and dinner service from Thursday – Saturday. Hubrich even hinted that she’ll break out traditional English roasts with sides and Yorkshire pudding in the months to follow.
We’ll certainly be on standby for it all.
Diabolical it’s not. Delicious it is.
2217 Post Road; Southport
(203) 292-6466; http://www.gruelbritannia.com/