A Stream-of-Consciousness Tumble Through Pub Grub
Outside a freeze was gripping the city, but inside the James Joyce Irish Pub and Restaurant the hostess felt blanketed by the dark warmth of the wood and leather which made her sometimes think of coffins in spite of herself. She liked best how the many high partitions of wood and etched glass created a smaller area of intimacy throughout the sprawling space, for it made her feel as though she were hosting several parties all at once, and as she was thinking so, a man tumbled in through the doubledouble doors.
I'm the first of four to arrive, he said. Am I to wait at the bar?
For pity sake no, she said, and she walked him around a partition and seated him at a high table with two tall stools on one end and a high-backed bench on the other. When the waiter came Lester asked him for his opinions on the list of single malts, which he gave freely, and then he sat sipping a glass of oaky 14-year-old Oban ($7.75) while he waited. After a piece, the hostess returned, with Julia by her side, and Julia sat down on the high-backed bench.
Oh, this place is pretty, she said, although it looks a little clean to be a real Irish pub. Are our friends not here yet?
Plainly not. Why don't you order an Irish coffee ($6), it will warm you up.
They drank and waited, while Julia kept an eye on the doors.
Here comes everybody, she said.
Maura and Daniel came over, took off their winter layers, and sat down, whereupon Maura promptly ordered a 20- ounce glass of the lovely Guinness ($5), which arrived with a beautiful, foamy head but minus a tacky clover stamped into its foam.
Thank goodness, Maura said. And let's have a look at this menu. Oh, if they're going to call this the James bleeding Joyce bloody Irish bleeding Pub, shouldn't there at least be a gorgonzola cheese sandwich on the menu, or haven't they read Ulysses?
True enough, Daniel said. Now, Lester Gonians, are we to order from the "Irish Favorites" or can we choose from the list of typical pub sandwiches or the more-or-less standard American fare with small Irish twists, like strip steak in a Jameson Irish whisky sauce ($17.95) or Bantry Bay crab cakes ($17.95)?
They ordered a few appetizers to help them decide--handsomely presented Irish oak-smoked salmon ($9.95), served with chewy homemade brown bread, and Joyce's pizza ($5.95), a creamy potato pancake topped with onions, spinach, and cheddar and then baked, a splendid concoction.
These are good, Daniel said, and I have to say I'm glad we got here before the live music started, since I always end up chewing to the beat.
Sometimes it's OK, but I don't care for that diddly-diddly, Maura said.
The waiter timed their meal nicely, and appetizer plates were removed and entrées brought with a minimum of fuss. This, and the place's good design, helped excite their conversation as they were eating their entrées.
I did like the beefy flavor in my Guinness stew ($10.95), but I pronounce the whole affair to be more of a chunky soup than a stew. It's bigger chunks that are wanted. All of it, as is plain, is served on top of champed potatoes, which is just a wee bit odd.
As for my shepherd's pie ($9.95), it's still piping hot even after Maura's lengthy essay, Julia said. I like best how the ground beef tastes freshly seasoned, and the mashed potatoes, baked on top, are fluffy and good. Is there anything better than a shepherd's pie for this terrible weather. And, how did you find your fish and chips ($9.95), Daniel?
Well, this is real fish, for one thing, that much is certain. And this fish was beer-battered today or next Monday isn't my birthday, which, of course it is. I'm straightaway composing a poem in praise of this tartar sauce, but I'm not falling in love with these thin friessorrychips because I like fat, thick kind better.
Indeed, yes. Well you know my Irish bacon and cabbage ($11.50) made me think of the priest that Stephen Dedalus' father calls "tub of guts"--"you should see that fellow lapping up his bacon and cabbage of a cold winter's day. O Johnny!"
I cry foul, said Maura. I want it noted that you've gone and added that allusion in later.
Noted then. And a word about Irish bacon, which is more like Canadian bacon, and in abundance here. Now, moving clockwise around my plate, the cabbage is plentiful, fresh, and crisp; the colcannon potatoes are fine but not perhaps memorable; and next, I especially like this mixture of mashed-up carrots and parsnips. Suddenly parsnips are everywhere.
They ate merrily and greedily as was their custom and then fed up, like gamecocks, they still wanted a sweet dessert, or three of them as it turned out. Best of all they liked the James Joyce ice cream ($4.95), which packed caramelized brown bread and Bailey's liquor into vanilla ice cream. Also good was a bread pudding with peaches and blueberries ($4.95), all delightfully light, and a Bailey's chocolate cake ($4.95) which was luxurious and moist.
Ecod! I like this place, and I'd come here again, for I do like sitting up high, Julia said. And she usually meant what he said.