This is what I imagined Irish food to be: potato and oatmeal dishes washed down with a pint of ale and a shot of Irish whiskey. And somewhere in there big legs o' mutton — one gets inspired to speak the Irish brogue when you're talking about things like mutton — washed down with a pint of ale and a shot of Irish whiskey. And perhaps a scone or two for tea served with coffee and a shot of Irish whiskey.
I was close. The humble potato is a diet staple, a foundation in dishes with imaginative names like champ, colcannon, fadge and boxty (it's said that Irish nationalism was nourished on potatoes). And oats pop up frequently in breads, porridges and even a potato and oat cake called pratie oaten.
Mutton, thank God, doesn't appear to be wildly popular. But the Irish sure do love their spirits and enjoy them most in their "home away from home" — the public house, better known as the pub.
Michael Kull, proprietor of The Dubliner, set out to re-create the warmth of the Irish people, their "comfort food" cuisine and the key role the Irish pub plays in community after a trip to the Emerald Isle years ago. Indeed, The Dubliner, with its several wood-burning fireplaces, handsome bar and "snugs" — small enclosed rooms, traditionally with hatch openings for discreet imbibing — glows the inviting warmth and comfort that we who haven't been to Ireland can only imagine all Irish to be.
On this frigid Sunday evening seated next to a crackling fire, the three of us are privy to an eight-piece Celtic band rehearsing. I only guess that they're rehearsing because they occasionally stop the music mid-song with hearty laughter over a sour note that only they apparently heard. To us the music is perfect gaiety, and we can hardly keep our feet still under the table.
The Dubliner's menu reflects some of the familiar pub grub of Ireland with its charming names: Shepherd's Pie (a dark stew of lamb and vegetables), boxty (an Irish potato pancake), coddle (a taxi driver's favorite of ham, sausage, potato crisp, egg and baked apples all together) and colcannon (mashed potatoes with cabbage), along with fish and chips, meatloaf, potato soup and corned beef and cabbage. The menu also takes a more modern approach to Irish food with pork loin glazed in black currant sauce, apple pork chops and salmon with Irish Mist cream.
If your knowledge of pub grub doesn't extend beyond Hooters, Dubliner's menu offers a few of the standards such as chicken wings, spinach and artichoke dip and plenty o' burgers served with — America's homage to the potato — french fries.
We chowed down on Fish and Chips ($8.95), Shepherd's Pie ($8.95) and a Black Bean Burger ($7.50), naturally washed down with a Guinness Stout. "This is food my Irish grandmother would make if she wasn't pushin' up clover," my friend declared as he practically inhaled the Shepherd's Pie. I felt like I was eating plain fried fish with french fries (with icky sweet tartar sauce) until I realized that one has to liberally douse them with malt vinegar to morph into an Irish experience. Well, that changed the whole picture. Another round, barkeep!
I was feelin' a wee bit sot by the time dessert came around, and one look at the tray of pre-frozen selections guided me to choose a Dubliner Coffee ($4.75) instead. Mmmmmm, Bailey's Irish Cream, Irish Mist and coffee topped with melting cream (cheers to the bartender for not serving it with a mammary mound of canned cream and maraschino cherry). As an Irish proverb says best: It'd make a rabbit spit at a dog.
Slainte mhath! Good health! ©
Go: 6111 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
Payment: Major credit cards accepted
Red Meat Alternatives: one pasta dish, veggie burger and vegetable boxty