Most notable about the pubs in Ireland, and quite contrary to the notion many Americans have, is that while they are places where one goes for a pint or a glass to be sure, they are not bars in the classic sense of the word.
Don't get me wrong, the Irish love their brew as much as anyone. One of our visits to St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin revealed an empty Guinness keg with the tap hole poked out so it could be used as the collection vessel for donations to buy a new organ for the church. I swear it's true! I have photographic evidence.
But the pubs are, especially in the small villages, events centers for everyone. You will find the whole family there, from babies to great grandparents, and everyone uses the time to catch up on local news and happenings, do a bit of business, listen to and participate in some great live folk music, and yes, have a pint.
For the record: In the isles, you don't order a Guinness or a beer, you order a pint or a glass, which is half the size of a pint. Anything else marks you as a tourist, just in case your Dockers or Banana Republics don't. And even then, expect to wait a bit. Tradition dictates that a tourist be made to wait before the barman acknowledges his presence, takes the order, pulls a stout, lets it sit under the tap to settle, and then tops off the glass. And don't grab for it or you might get a knuckle wrap with the end of an old, cut down pool cue. I wonder if that's where the nuns got that idea?
Kilkenny's Irish Pub, 1413 E. 15th St., manages to capture this feeling quite well, sans kids running around the place. (Although they do have a kid's menu just in case)
The bar is a massive affair, with dark wood and a large variety of Irish whiskeys and ales, and was built to spec in Ireland. It's beautiful, and is matched by an atrium of sorts in the center of the dining room. A large table sits underneath it, but it looked to me like the perfect place for a small folk combo to play the night away.
Our server was a quiet, dignified young man, very attentive and helpful.
We started out looking at one of the biggest menus I have seen in a while. A nightmare for the kitchen staff I suspect, but great from a customer's point of view.
I'm not sure how to describe a boxty, other than to say it is very traditional in a small swath of the central region of Ireland. At least in the towns and villages, albeit less so in the bigger areas.
A boxty is essentially a potato pancake made from raw, grated potatoes and some combination of potato and wheat flours. More contemporary versions use fillings and stuffings -- usually meat or seafood -- although the original didn't, probably because there wasn't anything to fill it with!
Kilkenny's menu touches almost all the bases: meat, shellfish, salmon, chicken, a veggie version, a corned beef version and even an omelet version with bangers and Irish cheddar that's topped with hollandaise, the rich egg yolk and butter emulsion that has nothing to do with Ireland. Sounds tasty though. Price range for these items are all over the map, from $10 for the veggie version, to $18 for the top of the line version with crab, jumbo shrimp and cold water lobster.
A soup and salad page includes potato soup, sweet corn and lobster chowder, Irish stew and a clam chowder, as well as a variety of entrée salads. Add in a few pasta dishes at the bottom and this is only the second of seven pages.
Our meal started with the St. Mullins mussels, a heaping bowl of the little black shelled freshwater bi-valves, steamed in a wine and herb broth and served with tasty slices of sweet brown bread. Pretty much anywhere you go in Ireland you are served some form of brown bread -- it's kind of the national trademark, and is somewhere between the texture of a biscuit and a yeast bread. It was sturdy enough to sop up the herby broth in the bottom of the bowl, and was an excellent start to the meal. Priced at $10.99, we felt it might have been a dollar or so higher than it should have been for the quantity, but was quite good.
I selected my entrée from the traditional Irish favorites section. When in Dublin, right? Corned beef and cabbage was my choice, and it was great. The corned beef was thick, juicy and fork tender, with an excellent flavor. It was served with a steamy plate of boiled potatoes and carrots and a big pile of seasoned cabbage. They all appeared to be cooked in the pickling broth from the corned beef and had really good depth of flavor. If I have one wish here, it would have been for a simple horseradish sauce. It came with sides of mustard and horseradish, but I would have preferred a bit of the broth, mixed with a little horseradish and a bit of cream or milk for a nice finish. All the same it was really good.
No surprise here, Katie ordered the Kilkenney Bake, an excellent blend of cold water lobster, shrimp and crabmeat in a light, flavorful white wine sauce, topped with mashed potatoes and parmesan and browned in the oven. The sauce was light and flavorful, not heavy and overly rich and was perfect for the dish. It was really good and well worth $20. She raved about it after each bite -- all the way to the bottom of the dish. It's one of the few times I have seen her finish anything since she usually runs out of room and stops long before. I wonder sometimes how we ended up together since the concept of stopping when you are full is a foreign one to me.
I ordered a side of colcannon, a native dish of mashed potatoes and braised cabbage. It was hearty and tasty. I have seen it with bits of corned beef in it as well, and its origins are pretty obvious.
And speaking of obvious origins, we finished the meal with a brown bread pudding that was fabulous. Hot and sweet, the brown bread gave it a texture and flavor that surprised us. We were kind of expecting run of the mill stuff, but this was really good. It was topped with a buttery whiskey sauce that suggests a designated driver if you eat a whole portion yourself. Very good, and worth the $4.50 price.
As I mentioned the menu is absolutely huge. Some of the highlights include: Dublin Coddle, a plate of vegetables with bangers and rashers. Bangers are sausages, and rasher is Irish bacon, sort of a cross between Canadian bacon, pork belly and ham.
Others include a traditional Irish breakfast, which is available all day and available absolutely everywhere in Ireland. It's a hearty plate with eggs, grilled tomato, rashers, bangers, soda bread, and black pudding, which is actually blood sausage. I remember eating it for a week in Ireland and finally asking one morning what that delicious black stuff was. That's how I found out!
Bangers and mash -- a plate of creamy mashed potatoes, topped with pan-fried sausages and accompanied by fresh steamed vegetables. In England and Ireland they usually put a brown onion gravy on it but the menu didn't mention that so I'm not sure.
The list goes on and on, and to avoid a two-page archive I suggest you check out the menu at tulsairishpub.com. Suffice it to say that pretty much every entrée on the menu falls within the $10 to $13 range, with the obvious exception of steak and seafood specialties.
Kilkenny's also hosts monthly underground dinners featuring local chef Charles Bowen, and are a fun night out with your friends or sweetheart. Call for reservations at 918-582-8282.
It's an easy, comfortable local pub that has stood the test of time on Cherry Street for a number of years now. There's no better place to spend St. Patrick's Day, whether you're Irish or not.
Erin Go Bragh!
Kilkenney's Irish Pub and Eatery
1413 E. 15th St.
Hours: Sun-Tues 11am-11pm; Wed-Thurs 11am -- midnight; Fri --Sat 11am-2am
Service -- ***
Atmosphere ***and a half
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