A few months ago my friend invited me to Ship & Shield, a Viking-themed pub situated in the old Byzantio spot over on West Gray. It sounded intriguing, the Vikings on the History Channel seem cool, and there’s mead involved. Despite all that, my first visit did not impress.
But recently, I saw the exciting news that the owners (the same folks behind Kelvin Arms) hired former Triniti chef de cuisine, Patten (Pat for short) Sommers as their new executive chef. As a fan of Sommers' meaty cuisine at Triniti, it seemed Ship & Shield was suddenly worth another shot.
With a serious appetite, as Scandinavian cuisine is often rib-sticking fare, I headed back to Ship & Shield last Friday. The décor remains, including a 35-foot Viking longboat, table tops made of handcrafted shields, handmade antler chandeliers and a wood-burning fireplace. Once we sat down, we unrolled our menus, which await on tables rolled like scrolls, and got down to business.
The cold pea soup with tarragon and fried sauerkraut was a disarmingly colorful, as well as flavorful dish, and the first of many items in our dinner including peas. The fried kraut was so good I suggested Sommers sell it by itself. Since it’s chilled and comes with bread for dipping, we treated it more like a dip.
Smorrebrod is a Danish-born open-faced sandwich, usually comprising toppings of your choice on top of thick buttered sour dough rye bread. Sommers has several on his new happy hour menu that's served from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. For our sampling, the chef chose steak tartare with horseradish and egg yolk; smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and dill; and Lifrarpylsa—lamb hearts and livers rolled into little meatballs with oats. The steak tartar and the salmon were delicious (I hope the salmon is part of the upcoming brunch menu), and while the lamb was a little too much for me, my friend loved it and ate every bite. The happy hour offerings are also easy to share and at $8 a piece or 3 for $21, a great deal.
For our main dishes we had two of Sommers’ favorites. Jansson’s Temptation is crispy duck served atop a fresh pea-and-carrot casserole. The Long Bone Lamb Chop is also served on a medley of fresh peas, this one mixed with farmers cheese and fresh garlic. It turns out, peas are so prevalent in Scandinavian cuisine they even serve them with pancakes.
Jansson's Temptation was an artfully prepared that the dish reminded me of something we might have at Thanksgiving. The casserole was full of vegetables with just the right combination of crispness to them. The duck was tender without being overdone, so the skin worked well to dip into the rest of the dish. The lamb was by far my favorite after the steak tartare smorrebrod. It was tender with just the right amount of pinkness to it, but what sold the dish was the farmers cheese medley underneath it. It is so good that it’s also served on the menu as an à la carte side dish.
The very simple dessert was homemade granola with fresh yogurt and berries topped off with splashes of liquor. To accompany our meal we had a selection of the restaurant's signature meads and craft beer. While the mead was a little too sweet for me, my friend had four glasses, so I am going to say he loved it.
Ship & Shield might not be your usual stop in for dinner, but that's its appeal. If you are looking for something off the beaten path that offers truly unique fare, this is the place. In a city full of Scandinavians, Ship & Shield is the only place in town serving that cuisine besides IKEA. It's the best way to make a culinary discovery, complete with views of downtown Houston.