According to the British Beer and Pub Association, Britain has seen the closure of 52 traditional pubs each week since mid-decade, and figures for the first six months of 2009 show that number increased by one-third.
To many, the pub is a solid cornerstone of English life, as integral to its collective identity as the red, double-decker bus, the phone box, bearskin hats, tea cozies, and thatched-roof cottages. Once beloved arenas of public discussion, encroaching modernization and changes in the way people socialize have found the hearth-warmed archetype ditched in favor of clinical wine bars, pre-packaged chain pubs, and American-style sports taverns. Of course, many still remain in the well-populated towns tourists are sure to frequent, but finding a pub that cleaves to the traditional idea of being a home away from home has become an increasingly difficult prospect on the sceptred isle.
But thanks to a diaspora of ex-pats like father-and-daughter team Peter and Jane Collett, the English pub as social hub and purveyor of reliable, hearty fare enjoys a second life on many a distant shore. For 23 years, the Collett’s Pig & Whistle has supplied Cocoa Beach with the kind of cozy warmth you expect from a real English pub, and to me, nothing says winter like tucking into one of their shepherd’s pies. Make no mistake: the Pig offers plenty in the way of drink, but it has also built its solid customer base on the food it serves. Their selection of dishes alone evokes feelings of wintry comfort: haddock and chips; sausage and chips; shepherd’s pie; pot pies; chip butties; mushy peas, and home-cooked roast beef sandwiches among them.
Now two years in its 240 N. Orlando Avenue location in the heart of downtown Cocoa Beach, the Pig & Whistle began life about a mile north in an incongruous shopping plaza, a location which, while not what you’d call particularly “traditional,” never proved to be much of an obstacle to those in search of English hospitality. The Pig’s new wood-framed digs are certainly more conducive to experiencing the enjoyment of a traditional pub, but the Collett’s ethos hasn’t changed since they first adopted their quaint name, which stems from an arcane, and thus quintessentially British, tradition. As their menu will tell you, the practice of whistling continuously while retrieving daily rum rations from barrels, or “pigs,” below decks ensured that Royal Navy midshipmen wouldn’t sneak sips while performing their duty. There are many English pubs, especially those in coastal areas, called “The Pig & Whistle,” but each, as the Collett’s show, is wonderfully unique.
Himself a Royal Navy veteran, Peter Collett began training as a chef at 16 in his hometown of Ascot, and prides himself on preparing all of the Pig’s food in-house. He knows that his haddock and chips will come out better than most because he takes the time to batter and fry them to order. This means that there may be a bit of a wait for some dishes, but when you get food as good as this, the gap is more than forgivable. Plus, the wait is made easy with a full-liquor bar and wide selection of draughts and bottles, including English staples like Strongbow, Newcastle, and Samuel Smith’s. This is a pub, don’t forget.
The practice of eating under the same roof where you’ve come to drink isn’t an exclusively English one, but there’s no doubt our cousins facilitate it better than anyone else. To that end, the Pig & Whistle’s menu, while somewhat Americanized, features reasonably priced, casual meals that go well with any of the beverages on hand. And in keeping with the pub’s open-armed spirit, families are always welcome to share in the warmth. All their food can be enjoyed either at the ample bar, in the dining room, or in their pleasant outdoor seating area. The Pig also does a brisk take-out business with their fresh sandwiches, burgers, and seafood entrees.
In addition to 5 or 6 daily specials, the Pig & Whistle’s menu features a host of appetizers (including a homemade soup of the day; salads; fried mozzarella; jalapeño poppers, and sausage rolls — English-style pork sausage baked in puff pastry), delicious 8-oz. Angus beef burgers (never frozen), chicken entrees, and an array of seafood dishes. The haddock and chips (served with mushy peas and coleslaw) is the Pig’s claim to fame, but their grilled fish salads and sandwiches, crab cakes, and shrimp and clam baskets are always popular draws. Generous sandwiches are also available: choose from roast beef; roast turkey; French dip with au jus; grilled ham and cheese; a great BLT, and others.
But the timbered exterior of the Pig & Whistle also suggests the presence of some traditional English fare, and on that count, the Pig delivers. Their beloved shepherd’s pie also comes as a curried version, and sausage and chips, pot pies, and chip butties (essentially french fry sandwiches) will please anyone hoping to add some Dickensian cheer to their holiday season. The pub as we once knew it may be on its way out across the pond, but the Collett’s Pig & Whistle keeps the spirit of the treasured institution alive and well beachside.
The Pig & Whistle English Pub and Restaurant (240 N. Orlando Ave.; Cocoa Beach) is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year until 2 a.m., with the kitchen serving until 1 a.m. every night. They open Monday through Friday at 8 a.m.; Saturdays and Sundays at 10 a.m. Christmas will find them open at 11 a.m., and New Year’s Eve will see a buffet and free champagne at midnight. The NFL, MLB, and NHL tickets can be enjoyed on 14 televisions, as can Setanta and Fox Sports channels. $7.95 fish and chip specials occur daily till 5 p.m.; $5.95 shepherd’s pies are served all day and night each Monday. Check their menu board for daily dessert specials. Happy Hour is held every day from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, with $2 pints of draught Bud or Bud Light along with several bottle specials. Enjoy $2 shots each Tuesday; $2 Jägers every Saturday; and $10 buckets of domestic beer are featured each Thursday and Saturday. The Pig & Whistle is also equipped with a jukebox, video bowling, live Golden Tee, and a dartboard. For more information, or to call in orders ahead, call (321) 799-0724.