There’s been a hole in my heart since the departure of the legendary Barbecue Shack at the World’s End.
The much missed emporium of meaty Texan-barbecued delights was based in a genuinely comfortable, unpretentious, lively pub, and they suited each other perfectly,
Since then I think a few Shack veterans have been short of a genuinely cozy boozer which sells equally comforting, slightly sinful sustenance, and which doesn’t have the atmosphere of a launderette.
But as the old saying almost goes, good things come to those who wait for an artisan mac n’ cheese kitchen to set up shop in an up and coming town centre pub run by passionate Brightonians...
Idle Hands is a relatively new addition to the city’s pub scene, based in a beautiful Victorian building and old pub site which was empty for a number of years, and more recently was trading as the Royal Standard.
The name presumably comes from another old saying judging from the pub’s logo which features a rather natty little devil/demon complete with a tail and hands the size of shovels.
There’s definitely an element of Old Nick in the menu offered by Dirty Macs, the aforementioned purveyors of devilishly delish pots of mac’ n cheese (no-one seems to ever call it macaroni cheese these days, I reckon it’s just another one of those creeping Americanisms).
As one of our photos ably demonstrates, there’s a lot more besides mac n’ cheese in the Dirty Macs creations.
We plumped (possibly literally) for The Macsican, a Mexicano riff on m n’ c,
The large ‘dinner’ sized pot of decadent pasta was topped with slow-cooked chilli con carne, with spring onion, pickled Jalapeños, fresh spicy chillies, and, just in case you hadn’t had enough chilli, a blast of hot sauce.
It wasn’t as fearsomely hot as it sounds and was obviously calmed by the fat pasta shapes and the almost criminally creamy and cheesy, gloriously gooey and unctuous cheese sauce.
The recipe for the cheese sauce is a closely-guarded secret, but I’d be willing to bet my soul to the devil that it involves an obscene amount of cheese, and a fair amount of other good stuff like butter and full-fat milk.*
Other toppings for the mac n’ cheese include fried Chorizo, melted oozing brie and caramelised onions,
Or for the veggies, mature blue cheese, crispy onion, or dressed peppers and marinaded aubergine for those of a plant-based equation.
In fact those steering away from meat and animal products will find a full-sized alternative menu on the flip side of the one favoured by their animal consuming fellow diners.
And it’s not all about the mac n’ cheese.
There’s a selection of Dirty Dogs - meat or vegan hot dogs with some cracking topping.
As only a lukewarm omnivore my natural choice was the former - A rather marvellous beef sausage from Vienna.
Personally I’m huge fan of imperial palaces and big dancing horses, but these hot dogs are now officially my favourite Viennese things.
Tempting as they were I snubbed the New York, Chicago and Texas-inspired dogs, and proudly ordered the Dirty Hands dog, a Brighton creation.
The sausage had the unmistakable crunch of a quality dog, and was spiced like a sophisticated Germanic saveloy. Praise indeed considering the legacy of that awesome red-skinned banger.
The Dirty Dog is served in a warm bun and, in addition to the dog, is stuffed with mac n’ cheese, crispy onions and Sriracha hot sauce.
As Gregg Wallace would probably joyously shout , I could eat five of them!
Our last treat came in the form of a portion of large Jerk Chicken wings marinaded for 48 hours in a spice mix and served with a pot of homemade blue cheese sauce.
The wings are available in tangy, hot and extra spicy, We sensibly swerved the last foolhardy option and, bravely, chose hot.
It was a good choice as there was enough heat to set the chilli endorphins buzzing but not too much to obliterate the flavours .
Those endorphins were further enhanced by a couple of pints of craft beer, including the brilliantly hoppy Beavertown Neck Oil, which is rarely on tap in Brighton.
The pub has a diverse craft beer selection which didn’t have eye-watering prices attached to them, and a choice of great cocktails for those who don’t have to get up in the morning.
The good vibes on a relatively quiet post-bank holiday Tuesday were also aided by some tip-top tunes on the sound system - lots of early Beatles and Kinks, interspersed with The Clash, Talking Heads, Bowie, and even a bit of Buffalo Springfield.
All seemed good in this agreeable little boozer and I’ll definitely be back, hopefully to see the fab and fuzzy Fukishima Dolphin, who have played there recently, or the ‘proggy punky jazz’ sounds of The Jones Street Boys. And of course I’ve got my beady eye on trying some more of those demonically enticing Dirty Dogs, although between now and then I’ll have to work a off a few thousand calories from the cheese sauce.
*A little bird may have taken some time out of the kitchen to talk about that sauce but didn’t reveal any of the secret ingredients.
By Steve Holloway