Kilt-y as charged

Scotish offerings at Springboro’s Highland Stag

Photo: Heather’s corned beef supper from Highland Stag

By Paula Johnson

My family background is Scottish, and I freely admit to an affinity for all things of the Highland stripe (or plaid in this case). Bagpipes are the music of the heavens, and I can’t look away from a man in a kilt. Favorite TV show: Outlander. Favorite plant: the thistle. Favorite Star Trek character: Mr. Scott. Favorite food: not haggis, which is good because they don’t serve haggis at Springboro’s The Highland Stag. But what they do serve might just be some of the best Celtic-inspired cuisine I’ve tasted.

The Highland Stag is located in a space that’s been home to several different places in recent years. At 75 North Main Street, without its own drive in road it’s easy to pass the restaurant by, though colorful flags and banners on the patio out front help significantly. (Plans to create a separate entrance are being explored). PIP (Palate In Progress) and I arrived early on a Tuesday to sample some Scottish fare. Warmly greeted and seated, we perused the menu over a nice glass of Skyfall Cabernet (there are also more than thirty Scotches, and twenty craft beers)—no accident that, while from a California vineyard, Skyfall is the name of James Bond’s Scottish Highlands childhood home.

Of castles and crests

Scotland is everywhere, from the portrait of a Highland stag, to the large mural of McKenzie Castle, the ancestral home of Highland Stag’s owners. The family crest featuring a stag is also prominently displayed. And Scotland’s in the air too, the airwaves, that is. We found ourselves humming along to an electric bagpipe version of a Toto song as we sipped. Who knew that bagpipe soft rock muzak even existed? Apparently, owner Ann McKenzie, who brought her family recipes from her grandmother’s cafe in Gorebridge, Scotland. The restaurant is operated by her daughter Heather and Heather’s partner, Dave.

Our helpful server Vanessa pointed out some favorites and let us know that just about everything on the menu is made in house. We started with Mum’s Homemade Sausage Rolls ($7.00) and Highland Stag’s version of Poutine ($6. 50) topped with Gouda (you can choose other cheese, but the smokey Gouda is truly the best match for the savory gravy and excellent fries). I liked the addition of fresh cubed tomato and scallions sprinkled on top. The Sausage Rolls, little nuggets blanketed in puff pastry, were served with HP sauce for dipping. HP sauce (named for the British House of Parliament where it was regularly served) has a tomato base, with vinegar, molasses, and tamarind, and is on the sweet side. I asked for mustard to dip, and liked it slightly better with the sweet pastry. We also tried one of the Toasties ($2.95 a la carte, $7.95 with fries). What’s a Toastie? If a hot pocket and a grilled cheese got married and had a wee round bairn, that would be a Toastie. We had ours stuffed with cheddar and bacon, but there are other options as well. A fabulous snack!

The menu features six entrees and a selection of burgers and sandwiches. Celtic favorite Shepherd’s Pie was tempting, but I am a huge corned beef fan, so Heather’s Corned Beef Supper ($14.50) was for me. This platter was a far caber toss from the usual soggy cabbage, bland boiled potatoes, and graying slab of meat. The meat was deliciously spiced and savory, hand pulled, and generously heaped along side rich sour cream mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables, and surprisingly, a colorful shredded cabbage slaw. The warm slaw had been blanched to remain slightly crisp, with just a hint of a vinegar tang. The grilled root vegetables—cubes of carrots, parsnips, and turnips—were perfect, a sweet flavor foil for the salty beef. So much variety of taste, texture, and flavor in a plate of corned beef? It was as much of a surprise as the bagpipe pop tunes. Pro tip: I added a little cup of the savory gravy for the mound of potatoes, as there wasn’t much liquid from the corned beef.

Fish story

PIP, as usual, had the Traditional Ale Battered Fish and Chips ($12.95). It’s his must-order-dish everywhere we go, so he’s had quite a lot of it. This version tops his list, with Highland Stag’s tartar made with a twist—the addition of capers. The fries deserve to be remarked upon as well. We had already had them with the Poutine, though covered in gravy. Alone they were delicious, especially dunked in the excellent tartar.

I chatted a while with Heather and Dave after my dessert, the classic Sticky Toffee Pudding ($6.00) This pudding is pudding in the English sense—a dessert cake, made with spices and figs topped with caramel sauce. “Lot’s of people are expecting pudding so we try to make that clear when it’s ordered,” she commented, adding “We go through a lot of figs!” The pudding was the perfect ending for a perfect meal. My only suggestion to Heather and Dave is that they consider running Outlander on a loop on one of the bar TVs. I might never leave if they do.

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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