PLYMOUTH, Mass. -- Even the Pilgrims got thirsty -- and not so much for water.
In 1620, H2O was a no-no, spreading disease and death. Beer was much safer, and our forefathers knew it was good for thee. That may be one reason the Mayflower landed in New England to begin with: The settlers were bound for Virginia, but ran low on beer and put in at Plymouth.
Fast forward four centuries, and a fine place to chill and swill is The New World Tavern, a short walk uphill from Plymouth Rock and a working replica of the famous ship moored in the harbor. A quote by William Bradford hand-lettered on the tavern wall makes clear the Pilgrims weren't too pious for a pint: "We could not now take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer."
Cozy and unpretentious, the tavern offers live music and a changing lineup of 32 brews on tap plus another 120 in bottles. Best of all, it dishes up simple but innovative cooking that redefines the term pub grub. The only turkey here makes a cameo in a club sandwich.
Tangy blue hubbard squash soup is served in a Champagne flute; you pour it yourself over a bowl of thinly sliced apple and fennel infused with honey and ginger.
Starters like the flash-fried, kabayaki-glazed Spanish Padron peppers -- only slightly less lethal than jalapeņos -- will hasten a beer order. Anything from the two closest microbreweries, Mayflower Brewing Co. and Cape Cod Beer, is a good bet.
Local favorites include the Cape Cod Reuben: haddock battered in -- what else? -- beer and slathered with coleslaw and Russian dressing. It's served with a generous heap of the tavern's signature hand-cut waffle fries, crisp and seasoned with sea salt.
Try a duck steam bun: confit of duck, pickled cucumbers and scallions drizzled with hoisin barbecue sauce. "It's ducking delicious," the menu jokes.
Or channel your inner Pilgrim and go for the roast bone marrow and oxtail roulade, served with arugula salad and toast.
Burgers here are a great value, built with imagination. There's the Don Juan (smoked Gouda, bacon, fig ketchup and an egg, sunny side up); the Jamaican (jerk spice, Swiss, cheddar, provolone and avocado); and the blue Hawaii (grilled pineapple, prosciutto and Roquefort.)
If you're inclined to keep things simple, order the artisanal cheese and charcuterie board, loaded with soft, sweet Fra' Mani Toscano and salametto salami and local and imported cheeses. Then take a "beer flight" -- five 4-ounce samples of the brews of your choice.
Both Plymouth and Plimoth Plantation, where actors in period clothing plant, harvest and converse with visitors, are busily gearing up for 2020, the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing. That's sure to draw hordes of hungry lowercase pilgrims to "America's Hometown."
Other worthwhile places to eat include The Office Bistro on the waterfront, with its tapas, comfy sofas and live folk, blues and jazz; and 42 Degrees North, a few miles south in Plymouth's Manomet village, best known for Atlantic cioppino and other fresh local seafood.