Correction 8/13/20: An earlier version of this article stated that Mike Crippen is Welsh. He is English. The Gabber apologizes for the error.
Did you know that you can mess up Guinness? I don’t mean brewing it – I mean serving it. Before Lea Doyle bought the Horse and Jockey in 2008, he says, they were storing it at the wrong temperature.
“The cooler it was in was broken,” he says. If you’re a British expat like Doyle, you know that’s a huge problem.
“Guinness is the centerpiece of most British pubs,” Doyle said.
It was never Doyle’s life goal to buy a pub, however. He was in IT before coming to the U.S.
“I just knew the Horse and Jockey could be better,” he says. “There were never any English people there with a passion for food and drink.”
That is, until Doyle stepped in.
Doyle immediately fixed the Guinness cooler. Now Horse and Jockey sells more Guinness than most bars in Central Florida. Next, he updated the look.
“We wanted to make it somewhere you’d bring somebody for Valentine’s Day,” Doyle said.
From the beginning, Doyle’s worked with a revolving team of chefs and cooks to improve each of the menu items, starting with an iconic dish: fish and chips.
The Horse and Jockey’s recipe isn’t far from British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s, Doyle tells me – which is to say that it’s authentic as heck. In 2019, Kevin Godbee of stpetersburgfoodies.com listed the Horse and Jockey’s fish and chips as one of the top eight in St. Petersburg.
Once they got the fish and chips and Guinness sorted, Doyle says, “it just spiraled from there.”
One of the things Doyle missed most from back home were the curries, so he phoned an old family friend in Wales – Chef Montchab Ali – for advice.
“The guy’s legendary in North Wales,” says Doyle. According to the British Bangladeshi Who’s Who, Ali’s Bengal Dynasty restaurant was named “Best Restaurant in Wales” six years in a row by Good Curry Guide, which notes the best curry restaurants in the UK.
“Ali came over and showed us how to make curries so we got them right,” says Doyle. He also received some advice from another ex-pat, Mike Crippen, who was the chef at Moon Under Water in downtown St. Pete for about 20 years. With the help Ali and Crippen, Doyle says Horse and Jockey mastered authentic British-style curries.
Next up: sausage. About four or five months ago, Doyle went to Sysco, a popular restaurant supplier in Palmetto. A salesperson had him taste about eight or nine sausage dishes.
When they asked Doyle for his opinion of the first dish, he said, “It’s awful.”
“What about that one?” the salesperson asked.
“That’s worse,” Doyle told them.
It went on like this until they got the last dish. Finally, Doyle said, “That is absolutely delicious.”
“The chef looked at me and smiled,” Doyle recounts. “The salesman’s boss looked at the salesman, scowling at him. This is when the chef says, ‘That’s the only one I made from scratch.’”
Doyle says the difference is clear.
“That’s one of the reasons that we make everything from scratch in the pub,” Doyle says. “I know when I’m going into a restaurant, I’m not paying $13 or $14 an entrée for a guy who calls himself a chef to take it out of a box and stick it into an oven. I can do that at home.”
Horse and Jockey now offers four varieties of sausage, made from scratch in-house: an English sausage, kielbasa, bratwurst and chorizo.
“We use natural casings, ground pork butt and about six or seven different spices,” says Doyle.
They’re also working on their dessert menu. Doyle somewhat accidentally hired a baker a couple of years back. Well, Doyle hired Julius intentionally, but he didn’t know that Julius was also an accomplished baker.
“About 10 to 20 weeks into Julius’ employment, all these pastries start turning up,” says Doyle. “And I was like, ‘Where are these pastries coming from?’ Isaiah, my main cook, says Julius is making them. So Julius starts bringing in these delicious pastries. Turns out he was making them from scratch.”
A lot has changed at the Horse and Jockey in the 12 years since Doyle took over – the Guinness, the fish and chips, the curries, the sausage, and now the desserts. Julius is working on a Guinness Chocolate Cake and Doyle is hoping to have it on the menu as early as next week.
“I don’t think there’s a single recipe I use that we inherited from the pub,” says Doyle.
Doyle wanted an authentic modern British Pub in Tampa Bay where you can enjoy a good curry, a great pint of Guinness, and all the British classics. Twelve years later, he’s made one in South Pasadena.