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The ingredients, too, are a revelation. Britain and Ireland don't have the homegrown bounty to draw on that Italy and Spain do, but what they've got is fresh and profoundly flavorful: sweet, tender seafood harvested right off the rugged, chilly coastline; fat berries tangled up in miles of hedgerows; lush gardens popping with sweet peas, carrots, potatoes, and parsnips; and some of the best beef and lamb in the world. Perhaps the region's most precious assets of all are its dairy products—rich butter, thick cream, and a multitude of cheeses, all from animals traditionally grazed on that tender, emerald grass. (Thankfully, many of these items are increasingly available in American grocery stores.)

Pub food is all about transforming these marvelous ingredients into simple, nourishing stews, soups, casseroles, and pies that bring people together. According to Colman Andrews, a founding editor of Saveur magazine and author of The Country Cooking of Ireland, "These foods are not something you eat by yourself standing over the kitchen sink. They almost demand that you sit down and share a meal."

So it makes sense that while other chefs are expanding their empires with franchises in Vegas and Dubai, Cathal Armstrong and his wife, Meshelle, are planning to open a fourth restaurant in 2010 right in Old Town. For them, food, drink, and neighbors to share them with are wound together like the loops of a Celtic cross. "Food creates a network," says Armstrong. And a good meal and a couple of pints strengthen the bonds that keep a community alive.

And that, in the end, is the secret ingredient in pub food. For there isn't a finer condiment in the world than the warmth and laughter of people gathered gratefully around your table.

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