Bob Donaldson, Post-GazetteStacie Stiles and Adam Jourdan with Molly Brannigan's corned beef and cabbage, a daily feature at the Irish-themed restaurant and bar in Mt. Lebanon.
It must have been all the bagpipes parading Downtown last Saturday, along with Irish Wolfhounds wearing green bandannas and beads and funny hats that got me thinking about Irish pub food. Although St. Patrick's Day celebrations in America might be more about green beverages than meat and potatoes, there is no better time to dine on Irish Stew or Shepherd's Pie.
St. Patrick's Day is the most widely celebrated ethnic holiday in the United States. It seems that on March 17, not just 40 million Irish-Americans get into a party mode, the entire country follows suit. The irony is that in Ireland, St. Patrick's Day is strictly a religious holiday centered around church and family. Traditionally, all pubs and businesses close to observe the holy day.
In Pittsburgh, the Irish dining establishments will not only be open but will be rocking!
The menus at all of the pubs are similar and the list of Irish brews on tap do not vary. Smoking is allowed in sections of all of them. Still, the ambience of each pub is definitely different.
MULLANEY'S HARP & FIDDLE<
Mullaney's Harp & Fiddle in the Strip District is a home-grown version of an Irish pub. Opened in 1992 by brother and sister Ann and Brian Mullaney and their friend Sean Patrick Murphy, the Harp & Fiddle could be considered the headquarters for the Irish cultural community in Pittsburgh.
Although there is a handsome old Irish bar that runs the width of the space, you won't find oak paneling or other Irish architectural features. This is a pub that is a true "local" in the Irish sense, meaning where you go regularly to have a pint and meet friends. It is not fancy, but it sure is comfy. I didn't even object to the paper napkin.
It is also the only pub on this list with a chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Matthew McKenna is a Pittsburgh native who has been in the kitchen at Harp & Fiddle for the past seven years. His Shepherd's Pie ($9.95) is legendary, and his Corned Beef and Cabbage ($9.95) is a classic. The beef is simmered until it is falling apart and served with steamed cabbage, red potatoes and carrots. Chef Matthew uses lamb for his Irish Stew ($10.95), which is simmered in Guinness-spiked sauce with parsnips, carrots and red potatoes. He serves it with delicious BreadWorks six-grain brown bread.
Because the chef has been trained in the classic French tradition, he likes to offer specials that change daily and might bear no relation to typical Irish fare. These specials give him an opportunity to showcase his unusual talents. He also makes all desserts ($3.75). Try his Whiskey Cake, which is rich, buttery pound cake soaked in Jameson syrup.
If you have always wanted to learn Ceili dancing, come to the Harp & Fiddle on any Tuesday. There is Ceili instruction from 7 to 8 p.m. and dancing to live music from 8 to 10 p.m.
On every other night there is live Irish music on stage, and the room is filled with adoring audiences. This is such a friendly place that there is a club for people who have met at Harp & Fiddle and subsequently married. On the Web site you will find pictures of the couples and in many cases of the children they have produced. Only in Pittsburgh! The entertainment calendar is also available online at www.harpandfiddle.com.
The St. Patrick's Day festivities at Mullaney's will take place in a heated tent that opens at 11 a.m. Mark Guiser will provide the music from noon to 4 p.m., followed by Michael Murphy and the Shannon River Band from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Hooley and Guaranteed Irish are also on the program, which will continue until midnight. The limited menu served all day will include traditional Irish specialities and sandwiches.
2329 Penn Ave., the Strip, 412-642-6622. Open Tuesdays-Saturdays from 11:30 a.m., Sundays from 4 p.m. Closed Mondays. The kitchen closes at 10 p.m. Metered parking on street.
CLADDAGH IRISH PUB
The Claddagh Irish Pub is part of a chain that originated in Indianapolis and now is in 20 locations scattered across the middle of America. The interior of our Claddagh on the South Side has an authentic Irish look with handsome architectural features imported from old pubs dismantled in Ireland and shipped to the United States. The heavy dark oak paneling and leather-upholstered booths look a lot more like Galway than like Pittsburgh. The piped-in music is Celtic.
Judging by the 45-minute wait for a table, Claddagh's Pittsburgh location would appear to be a big success. Once seated, we found service was amiable and fast. So fast, in fact, that I felt we were being rushed so that those still gripping their beepers and staring menacingly at us could take our table. The appetizer menu goes from truly Irish to generic Pittsburgh: from smoked salmon with brown bread ($9.95) to spinach and artichoke dip ($7.95).
Pub sandwiches have a distinctly Gaelic character. Paddy Mac's Corned Beef and Slaw and Swiss Cheese ($7.95) served on grilled marble rye bread sounds hauntingly similar to a Reuben. Entrees include a choice of soup or salad. The salad is primarily iceberg lettuce with tomato, carrot and cucumber. Clam chowder is bland and undistinguished. Claddagh's Corned Beef and Cabbage ($13.95) is a large plate of boiled cabbage with carrots and red potatoes topped with many thin slices of corned beef. The beef was tough, a result of being undercooked. Irish Beef and Guinness Stew ($13.95) is a better choice. The carrots and potatoes simmered in Guinness are both tender and flavorful. Although the plate of brown stuff with chunks of orange carrots has absolutely no eye appeal, it is a healthy portion of true comfort food, and I would order it again. Pints of Irish ale on draft are $4.50. A shot of ordinary Irish whiskey is $5.50, but one can order from an impressive list of extra-age whiskeys that climb to $27 a shot.
The party begins at 10 a.m. Friday inside the pub. At noon, the band Hooley will begin a three-hour concert. At various times during the day, there will be Irish dancers performing or bagpipers playing. Claddagh will serve a limited menu all day. Seating in the dining rooms will be on a first-come basis. At 4 p.m. the party will move to a tent in front of the pub. Bands will perform there until 1:30 a.m. No food will be served there, and all who enter must be at least 21. After 5 p.m., there will be a $5 cover charge.
407 Cinema Drive, SouthSide Works, 412-381-4800. Open daily from 11 a.m. Kitchen closes at 10 p.m. weeknights and 11 p.m. weekends. Garage parking.
Molly Brannigan's is a Pennsylvania native. The creation of John Melody, an Irishman transplanted to Erie, the first Molly Brannigan's opened in Erie in 2002. He has since opened traditional pubs in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh (Mt. Lebanon) and Las Vegas. All of his pubs are built of remnants of old pubs Melody acquired through salvage dealers and at auctions in Ireland. From the furniture to the wall art to the fixtures, nearly everything in Molly Brannigan's is Irish.
It is hard to find anything Irish on the appetizer menu. Jumbo Wings (7.95), however, are served with Bushmills barbecue sauce. There are soups, salads and sandwiches, but the most interesting items are boxty entrees. A boxty is a potato pancake wrapped around various meat centers. Corned Beef Boxty ($12.95) has corned beef and cabbage inside the pancake. Steak Boxty ($13.95) has thin slices of sirloin sauteed with onions, peppers and mushrooms in the pancake. The boxty is a typical pub meal in Ireland. The Fish-N-Chips ($9.95) here was my favorite entree. The half-pound portion of battered and fried haddock was crispy without being greasy. The fat sticks of potato were equally crisp and fresh, and the coleslaw was tart and not swimming in dressing. Irish ales are $5 a pint; whiskey $5 for bar brands.
Molly Brannigan's will kick off its party at 7 a.m. Friday with an All-You-Can-Eat Irish Breakfast Buffet ($10.95 and served until 11 a.m.). The fun will continue until the 2 a.m. closing time with a DJ on site to keep the good times rolling to great tunes. It will serve a limited menu.
660 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon, 412-341-7827. Open daily from 11 a.m. Kitchen closes at 10 p.m. on weeknights, 11 p.m. weekends. Street parking with meters.
Elizabeth Downer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1454.