Great Halls of Eire
An Poitin Stil Brings the Big Green
Meet my friend, Michael B. RabidOrioles fan, rock 'n' roll man, Special Olympian, sturdy trencherman. Several times a year, when our busy schedules are in sync, Mike and I like to grab a bite, then take in a flick. I pick him up at 4 P.M.not five minutes before or after. (Mike B. is a stickler for detail.) He selects the film and leaves the choice of eatery to me. This has been our routine for many years.
Mike is a big fan of Julia Roberts, and for a while there she was providing us a film a month, it seemed. But tonight, Mike has a Cameron Diaz jones, so we are headed for Oliver Stone's heavy-handed, hard-hitting, ear-splitting Any Given Sunday. I would like to steer Mike toward something elseanything elsebut our friendship has its rules. He picks the flick.
When it comes to dining, Mike, like many young men, enjoys a serious slab of beef. I'm curious about a new Irish pub and restaurant in Timonium, An Poitin Stil (2323 York Road,  560-7900). The crowds here have been daunting since its opening, but when we arrive at 4:45 and Mike requests two in nonsmoking, we are shown right to a table. A very small table. A very small table in a very small room. So small and enclosed it feels like a jail cell.
At my request, we're moved to a large room at one end of the restaurant. Fake stone fireplace, fake (gas) fire, fake flagstones, authentic-lookingbut still fakeweapons (swords, knives, maces, halberds, crossbows) mounted on the walls, along with numerous sets of (fake?) antlers. Brass bowls, pewter mugs on shelves. Very Henry VIII. It's almost cozy, in a medieval sort of way.
The restaurant's focal point is a large, handsome bar with a cutting-edge tap system. Frankly, I'd love a glass of poitin (moonshine) or a frosty mug of beer to anesthetize myself for the coming film. But Mike was a member of his high school's Students Against Drunk Driving group, so we order sodas and dig into the warm brown bread our server has brought, along with specially warmed bread plates. Nice touch, I'm thinking. The bread is mildly sweet, very light, but a bit floury. Mike leaves the crusts.
From among the appetizers, Mike selects chicken tenders ($5.95), a mound of fried poultry soaked in a hot sauce so incendiary it leaves him speechless for several minutes. My own choice, Welsh rabbit shrimp dip ($6.50), is surprisingly bland and rather thin for a dip. I had thought about ordering the Dublin beef sticks ($6.95), stout beer-battered and deep-fried meat, but the idea of a massive coronary is unappealing.
The Irish cobbler soup ($3.95 for a bowl) has an authentic sound. The menu says it's made with potato, smoked gouda cheese, and applewood-smoked bacon. I'm warming to the thought when the server informs us they're out of it. Will creamy tomato do? I think not.
Mike goes for the gusto: Gaelic steak ($17.95), a 12-ounce New York strip pan-seared with mushrooms and onions in an Irish whiskey sauce, with cabbage on the side. And a beauty of a steak it is. Mike, a serious man when it comes to food, sniffs his satisfaction, lifts his steak knife and fork, and sets to work.
I ask our server to bring me the most authentically Irish item on the menu. Is it corned beef and cabbage? Shepherd's pie? Nope, it's the Irish stew ($13.95). Naturally, I expect to see the usual chunks of meat; instead, I get a whole braised lamb shank emerging bone-first from a hollowed, round bread loaf. A lamb-flavored stew of potatoes, onions, carrots, and turnips has been poured into the loaf. I like the veggies more than the lamb itselfit's tasty, to be sure, but not as meltingly tender as one wants in a stew. We eat in the dim light of the antler chandelier. If I were wielding a carved wooden spoon instead of this gleaming fork, I could almost believe Mike and I were supping in some lord and lady's Great Hall.
We're too full for dessert, but I do request a slice of house-made bread pudding ($3.50) to go. Later tonight, C.C. will say it's exquisite. Right now, though, whatever Mike and I have to say to one another must be screamed. The crowd has swelled, the service has slowed, the volume at the bar is thunderous, and it's only 6:30. I should be going home to sit with a cup of tea and a copy of Angela's Ashes, but Mike and I have a thunderous three hours to go, thanks to Oliver Stone. After the first few minutes, I'll wish I had fortified myself with a pint or two. An hour into the film, I'll just be praying for a blow to the head.
Open 11 A.M.-1 A.M. Monday-Saturday, 11 A.M.-midnight Sunday.