British Delicacies at Myers of Keswick

By Dow Jones Business News, 
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By Ralph Gardner Jr.

The splendor of New York City is that some store, somewhere, has the product you're looking for--no matter how exotic.

That's what propelled me to the British grocery Myers of Keswick a few days ago. It's on Hudson Street between Horatio and Jane.

But saying that Myers of Keswick specializes in British products is a grotesque understatement. The experience is similar to taking a trip to the British Isles absent the airfare.

I'd come hungering for three items, starting with bangers--British breakfast sausages. I can't really explain why bangers. Last spring, I was down in the British Virgin Islands where I'd been able to find them in the past. But not this time. However, once your appetite is whet, there's no turning back.

Also, I'd recently watched "The Trip," where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travel the Lake District and have several lovely meals, starting with a typical "fry," or full, breakfast. I wanted a fry.

Next on my shopping list was a particular kind of marmalade: Frank Cooper's Original Oxford (Course Cut Seville Orange.) After reading a column I'd written about marmalade, a British acquaintance informed me that Frank Cooper's is the real thing and sent me a jar.

He wasn't joking. It's solemn stuff.

Finally, there was my urge for British chocolate. Which I'm willing to admit is a full-fledged addiction. I wish I could kick it, but not really. I know how people hooked on cigarettes or worse feel.

My habit started when I was 8 years old, traveled to Ireland on summer vacation, and had my first Cadbury Flake. Or perhaps it was a 6-pence Dairy Milk chocolate bar.

I'd brought along $5 for the whole summer. (This was a long time ago when $5 was a huge sum.) But I blew it in the first week on British candy and spent the remainder of June, July and August begging me parents for money. It got pretty ugly.

Fortunately, it's easier to get Flake, Dairy Milk and other British candies in New York than it used to be. Fairway, for instance, carries them. But I was still looking forward to basking in Myers's selection, and curious whether the shop might carry Fry's Chocolate Cream, a tasty dark chocolate candy bar with a fondant filling that I haven't seen lately, even on visits to the United Kingdom.

Not only does Myers carry bangers--I was relieved to see as soon as I set foot in the store--but also pork pie, sausage roll, Cornish pastie and shepherd's pie.

Pete Myers, who opened the store in 1985, told me in a telephone interview later that he comes from a long line of Keswick sausage makers.

"My father and grandfather was a butcher," he explained.

There are probably many reasons he isn't. But perhaps the most relevant is that the Keswick's Lake District tourist economy didn't lend itself to survival.

"The winter you could hibernate," he said. "There were 11 butcher shops. Now there's only one."

He moved to the U.S. to find his fortune. Or rather his fortune found him.

"I met a guy from the consulate," he said. "I remember him distinctly telling me there were 150,000 [Brits] in the city and another 100,000 in the tri-state area. Since then, I've heard there a million Brits on the East Coast."

Mr. Myers said 90% of his clientele is British.

I'm pleased to report Mr. Myers shares my passion for his native candy bars.

"Fry's cream. One of my favorites," he said, even though he sadly doesn't carry it. "In the purple-and-white wrapper. They're ancient. They've been around forever."

That doesn't mean he endorses his entire inventory; the store these days is run by his daughter.

"We sell one called Refreshers," he said, referring to a hard candy that apparently has an audience, though not with him. "Which I think are repulsive. I can't stand them. They're shockingly awful."

We bonded over Cadbury Flake, which looks like a chocolate log and literally melts in your mouth. If I can quote the wrapper--it's "the crumbliest, flakiest milk chocolate." Ever.

"You can't beat a plain Flake," one of us said.

"Absolutely," agreed the other.

We also had a learned discussion about whether Cadbury's Dairy Milk made in Ireland tastes different than the same candy bar made England.

(Whether you can taste the difference between Cadbury's Dairy Milk made in Britain and in the U.S. is a whole other discussion.)

An Irish friend of mine claimed his country's milk is different, better, imparting a slightly sour taste to the candy bar, a bit of a yin-yang. I tend to agree.

"I've heard the same story," Mr. Myers said without taking sides.

"They do have peculiar taste, the British," he acknowledged. "We sell an item called Mushy Peas. That's exactly what it is. It's vegetables for people with no teeth."

ralph.gardner@wsj.com

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