hen I first heard that a new Irish restaurant was opening up downtown, I was happy but skeptical. Happy because it’s great that the corner space at Seventh and Race streets is once again occupied, but skeptical because I’ve never found Irish cuisine to be inspiring.
Luckily, BagPipes Irish Pub is making a strong case to prove me wrong. The Irish food at BagPipes was surprisingly delicious.
The menu remains basically true to the Irish theme and is moderately priced (nothing is more than $20), with a large selection of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and Irish-themed entrées. More importantly, there is an even larger beer selection, with 27 beers on tap and another 75 available in bottles.
There are many standard pub choices among the appetizers (like wings, rings, crab cakes and chicken tenders, priced $7.50-$9.95) but I opted for the Reuben Flatbread ($7.50). Corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing lightly topped the flatbread and this dish did exactly what an appetizer is supposed to do — make me want more of this kitchen’s food. The only flaw with this flavorful appetizer was that the flatbread was not uniformly crispy.
For my entrée, I chose Shepherd’s Pie ($12.50). I am always turned on by the thought of this dish but usually disappointed in the execution. BagPipes’ version of the Irish classic lived up to my hopes. The plate of ultimate comfort food contained both beef and lamb (thumbs up!) along with Guinness gravy and vegetable stew covered with creamy mashed potatoes nicely crusted under the broiler. Each bite of the generous portion was better than the bite before. The Irish Stew is also available as a separate entrée for $11.95.
My carnivorous dining companions chose red meat options. The Blarney Filet ($19.95) arrived perfectly cooked and was enhanced by an Irish whiskey sauce. It was served with excellent green onion mashed potatoes, a huge hit with all the tasters at the table, and grilled asparagus spears that had a nice smoky flavor, but were a little overcooked for my taste.
I was once again skeptical when my friend ordered the Lamb Lollipops ($19.95), since lamb can be an unforgiving meat. If it is not cooked or rested properly it can be a disaster. Once again, BagPipes proved my doubts unfounded. The Lamb Lollipops were cooked to a perfect medium rare, incredibly flavorful and by far the best dish of the night at our table. The portion was somewhat small but, considering the price, it was appropriate. The lamb was served with mashed potatoes and slow-roasted tomatoes that were nicely seasoned and satisfying, impressive for tomatoes in February. Seriously, this dish could hold its own against any lamb in the city.
Since we were so happy with our meals, we decided to try dessert. I’ve always been tempted to try a deep-fried candy bar, so when I saw that BagPipes offered a deep-fried Mars bar ($4.95), I had to take the bait. It was exactly what I thought it would be — very gooey and sweet, but freaking awesome! Granted, deep-fried candy bars are not for everyone, but give it a try if you have a massive sweet tooth. You’ll be in dessert bliss.
Other dessert options included a very nice New York-style Crme Brule Cheesecake ($4.95) served with berries and a Bailey’s caramel sauce. The cheesecake was creamy and rich without being overly sweet. But after eating the deep-fried Mars bar, nothing would have seemed sweet to my palate. A Black and Tan Brownie ($4.95) and a typical Banana Split Sundae ($5.95) are also on the dessert menu.
BagPipes occupies a huge amount of space. On my visit, the front bar area was packed for happy hour and featured live music, so the atmosphere was very lively. As to décor, the bar area is reminiscent of a castle dungeon (don’t question it, just go see for yourself) and the staff is dressed in kilts. I’m not a fan of the man-skirt and on the women staffers the outfit totally comes off like naughty Irish schoolgirl uniforms.
That might or might not entice you to visit. The best reason to give it a try is the damned good pub food, which gives BagPipes the potential to become one of the best Irish restaurants in the region.
Go: 700 Race St., Downtown
Call: 513-421-PINT (7468)
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Sunday
Entrée Prices: $11.95-$19.95
Red Meat Alternatives: Fish and Chips, salmon, chicken
Accessibility: Fully Accessible