A few years ago in Seattle, a new Irish pub called F.X. McHooligan's or something equally obnoxious opened up. I went there, fresh from my recent trip to the Emerald Isle, and just about spat on the floor at what I saw. Bright brass everywhere, glistening mirrors, green leather, shamrocks, harps all over the place — it was like a Disney vision of a Hibernian watering hole.
There didn't even seem to be any discernible drinking going on, just clusters of plastic-looking yuppies chattering animatedly about dot-coms and the like. Not remotely Irish. Ptuie!
I present for you, in contrast, Jack Quinn's. It possesses almost every characteristic of a real Irish pub — the missing ones being kids running around and, of course, Irish people being funny and dry. The décor's not too fancy, just regular, lovingly used furniture and wood floors. It's maybe a little too big to be the real thing, but otherwise Quinn's is well nigh perfect.
Right down to the excellent food.
We (me, my brother and my younger nephew) began with the sampler appetizer ($7.95), comprised of fish cakes (positive miracles), a shrimp dip (sure, it's heavenly) and the most delectable Guinness beef crostini imaginable. For main courses, the nephew ordered a steak and potato croquette ($17.95) and approved. They'd cooked the steak admirably, and it was roughly the size of his school backpack. My brother got the bangers and mash ($9.50), and I tried the veggie boxty ($7.50).
Don't ask me where the name "bangers and mash" came from; all I know is it made the 13-year-old at the table snort and smirk like Butthead. I don't know why they call boxty "boxty" either, but it's good. The veggie version is a lovely crepe, with crisp green goodies inside a pretty cream sauce. Authentically delicious. I loved the real, green JQ house salad ($5.95); besides the virtues of non-icebergness, it was sprinkled with crunchy root-vegetable chips.
The bangers and mash deserve their own paragraph because they are, in a word, sublime. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, that's one tasty dish. Mouth-watering sausages — not crisp, not soggy, springy, smooth and fresh-tasting, with a mild old-world flavor. One bite and you'd swear you're rubbing shoulders with James Joyce. The potatoes, Yukon Golds, were definitely homemade, mashed to creamy perfection. The whole mess of caloric, starchy joy came served with giant slices of carrots, glazed with something sweet and boiled tender and flavorful. Heartbreaking, it was.
We were too stuffed to eat a large dessert, so we eschewed the famed chocolate-chip bread pudding ($4.25) and the Bailey's crepes ($4.50). As if! We got instead the strawberry shortcake ($3.25). All I wanted to know: Was the shortcake homemade? I tasted it and doubted no longer. Superb. The bottom looked slightly too-brown, just like Mom's.
Ireland's legendary hospitality isn't overrated. The Irish are justly proud of this hallowed tradition, and it makes itself felt to the respectful and good-humored visitor every single day. That spirit seems abundantly upheld at J.Q.'s, where the host greets you with a friendly smile and the servers have the efficient American thing going on while still being down-to-earth and merry. Just the right mix of Yank can-do (can I say that about a Kentucky restaurant?) and Irish charm.
One of the best things about pubs in Ireland is the way they can go from being peaceful places in which to enjoy a quiet meal and a pint to rip-roarin', gangs-all-here, non-stop parties. Jack Quinn's has it all, my friends. Slan! ©
Go: 112 E. Fourth St., Covington
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-2:30 a.m. Friday-Saturday
Payment: Major credit cards accepted
Red Meat Alternatives: Pasta, boxty, salads and sides