The Hearty South African Pub Fare at Springbok Is All Veldt, No Svelte

You'll Be 'Bok
The hearty South African pub fare at Springbok is all veldt, no svelte

The first thing you should know about Springbok is that it's a sports bar. The second thing you should know about Springbok is that it's a sports bar that employs female bartenders wearing shorts, microskirts and bikini tops.

I tell you this as a warning because should you be enticed by the South African food it serves (and you will), and if you take offense at this sort of attire, please don't send us letters complaining that your date took you there. And if you're the date in question, please don't send us letters complaining that your erstwhile dining companion won't return your calls—and has taken to writing angry letters to food critics.

Don't get me wrong: The place is perfect if you're into chugging ale, watching rugby, rooting for the Lakers, hooting and hollering. Like any bar, it's not exactly the place for a romantic get-to-know-you dinner, but Springbok is everything you'd expect a good watering hole to be. The room reeks of spilled beer. The menus are sticky. The place is dark and comfortable.

And like all pubs, it's busiest and rowdiest during the happy hours and the $1 draft nights on Thursdays. But unlike most pubs, the food is actually terrific, complex, even challenging. Take a gander at the appetizers, and you'll see what I mean.

Stuffed between such bar-food standards as fried calamari, potato skins and Buffalo wings are samosas, escargot and chicken livers. The latter is the most intimidating of the bunch. Spongy, purple-colored, bite-sized lobes of the organ meat are seasoned heavily in spices and cooked with tomatoes. If you didn't know any better, you'd think it was chili. But no one's kidding anybody: If you've never liked liver, this dish isn't about to change your mind.

The less squeamish can chomp on the samosas, the Indian deep-fried snack also popular in South Africa. Served three to an order, they're as puffy as pillows, as crunchy as wontons, and filled with a savory curried potato or beef, all accompanied by sweet Thai chile sauce. Who cares if the condiment isn't Indian or South African? Nothing's better for dipping.

Green lip mussels get the same treatment as the escargot: drenched in garlic butter and served with a hot, crusty roll to wipe up the tasty grease from the bowl. Like everything else on the menu, this dish goes especially well with beer. Each item on the list of specials even comes with a free glass of draft or a house wine.

Another roster of entrées (which doesn't include free alcohol) is where the South African flavor of the pub truly shines through. Bunny Chow—one of the most popular fast foods in Durban— is a spicy curry of the day poured into a hollowed-out loaf of bread. The concoction uses chicken breast chopped into boulder-like hunks and simmered in fiery, tomato-based sauce.

You can also opt to douse the same curry over rice, brought out on a plate as wide as a trough. Mix it up with a fork, and it will look like paella or jambalaya—but more scorching than both combined. Best of all, a crisp pappadam is supplied to help scoop it up.

If red meat is your game, look no further than the South African sausage called boerewor. Lightly spiced lean ground beef is crammed into a tube of natural casing, then grilled till glistening. Crumbly and brown, it eats like a hamburger patty disguised as a hot dog. You can have it tucked inside a roll to be eaten as a sandwich; or better yet, order the gut-busting combo called the Freestate Braai Pack, in which the boerewor is joined by two lamb chops, a filet mignon, steak fries, coleslaw, a mustard-dressed green salad and some sliced cucumbers.

Once you finish this meat-and-potatoes monstrosity and wash it down with a chilled stein of brew, you'll be too stuffed to either leer at or seethe over those scantily clad bartenders.

Springbok Bar N Grill, 423-A Shoreline Village DR., Long Beach, (562) 437-3734; Call for hours. Dinner, $10-$25, excluding drinks. Full bar, duh!

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