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Erin Go Eat

In Irish outposts, St. Patrick’s Day means more than green beer

Forty million Americans — about 13 percent of us — trace our roots to Ireland. But on St. Patrick’s Day, everybody’s Irish. We dress up like leprechauns, feast on corn beef and cabbage and drink beer green.
    Green beer? How Irish is that?
    “We don’t do green beer in Ireland,” says Dublin-born Colm Coyne, general manager of the Irish Channel in Crofton.
    “You’ll only find that in a chain,” agrees David Lyng, general manager of Killarney House in Davidsonville. For those who demand green, the Irish-born Lyng serves “a pint of Guinness with crème de menthe poured on top.”
    Killarney House — together with sister restaurants Galway Bay in Annapolis and Brian Boru in Severna Park — form a chain of Irish outposts in Anne Arundel County.
    All are “Irish all year ’round,” and owned and staffed by “Irish people who put who we are into it,” says Galway Bay manager Sean Lynch.
    Annapolis is a virtual colony, with Castlebay and Fadó on top of Galway Bay, whose interior Irish-born owner Vincent Quinlan rates “the most authentic in the county.”
    The Irish Channel in Crofton marks the western edge of Irish influence in the county — though it continues in Washington and Baltimore.
    Each shares the goal of recreating the culture of the homeland.
    “It’s the Irish experience more than can I have a shepherd’s pie and a Guinness,” Lyng explains. “We want people to feel at home, welcome and warm as if they were walking into your house in Ireland.”
    Ol, ceol, agus craic! is the Irish way of saying “drink, music and good times, and that’s really what a pub is all about,” according to Greg Algie, Managing Partner at Fadó, an Irish American chain that reached Annapolis in 2007.
    The Irish have failed to colonize Calvert County, where Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Japanese and Thai have established beachheads of ethnic cuisine.
    St. Patrick’s Day, however, affords a couple of Irish opportunities in Chesapeake Country’s southern reaches, at Honey’s Harvest in Rose Haven and Heavenly Ribs and Chicken in Dunkirk.
What Would
St. Patrick Drink?
    Guinness, Harp and Jameson’s Irish whiskey are the cream Americans have skimmed off the top of Ireland’s lively alcoholic production of stout, ale, cider and whiskey.
    On St. Patrick’s Day, that Irish trio is drunk with extraordinary gusto. Most popular is Guinness, which can be halved with cider for a Snake Bite, champagne for a Black Velvet or Harp for a Half and Half.
    It’s bedlam,” says Lyng, noting that Killarney House will serve about 1,400 Imperial 20-ounce pints of Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day.
    Anne Arundel’s Irish pubs typically also offer Harp, Bass, Smithwick’s and Kilkenny on draft, plus a draft cider, often Mangers or Strongbow.
    Brews are backed up by the stronger stuff.
    “A lot of Jameson’s Irish whiskey will be poured into coffee after dinner,” says Lyng.
    That’s not the only use of good Irish whiskey. America’s number one spirit until prohibition, whisky is in revival, Algie says, with small craft distilleries opening in Ireland and America. Fadó pours Black Bush, Bushmills, Powers, Red Breast and Tullamore Dew, among others, as well as Jamesons, and sponsors whiskey-tasting dinners.
    “You drink it neat, but it also makes a good cocktail, like our Pickleback, served with a back of pickled juice,” Algie says.
    The party is so hearty because St. Patrick’s Day is the Irish American equivalent of Mardi Gras. American is the key adjective here. St. Patrick’s Day as we celebrate it is an American invention, according to Irish Channel’s Coyne. He traces the roots to Boston’s large Irish community, where Catholic labor organizers honored their patron saint by winning a day off for working people.
    In Ireland, the feast day has a very different celebration.
    “St. Patrick’s Day is one of only three days” — together with Christmas and Good Friday, “alcohol was traditionally not served in Ireland,” says Coyne. “We have parades and family getting together like Thanksgiving.”
    “The drinking originated in the United States,” Lyng adds. The bars were open and the Irish saint’s day — which always falls in the Lenten season of fast and sacrifice, gave Catholics “the one day in Lent you can abstain from your abstinence of liquor.”

Irish Eating? Ask Darina Allen; She Wrote the Book

    A ton of corned beef will be served at Brian Boru, Galway Bay and Killarney House on March 17, says Killarney’s House’s Lyng.
    Corned beef with cabbage and potatoes is St. Patrick’s Day’s traditional fare.
    But is it Irish?

Irish Chef Darina Allen has helped establish Irish cooking as a world cuisine and has a new cookbook, Irish Traditional Cooking.

    I posed that question by trans-Atlantic telephone to Darina Allen, Ireland’s celebrity chef, who’s new edition of Irish Traditional Cooking comes out this week.
    With her best-selling cookbooks, her syndicated television show Simply Delicious, her Ballymaloe Cookery School, her organic farm and family inn and restaurant in County Cork, Allen has established Irish cooking as a world cuisine (cookingisfun.ie). It’s a roots cuisine she advocates, achieving the best taste and good health through local cultivation and animal husbandry.
    Corned beef is an immigrant’s dish, not a native one, she told me.
    “Boats crossing the Atlantic would have provisioned with corn beef because it wouldn’t go bad,” Allen said. In America, the tradition would have been reinforced because “a lot of Irish immigrants lived in Jewish ghettos, where they would have adjusted pastrami to a food they knew.”
    Cabbage and onions were naturals and potatoes, imported from the Americas, a quickly acquired taste.
    “The potato was so easy a thing to cook. Just boil it on an open fire and with butter or buttermilk it gave you all the nourishment you needed, and was filing.”
    Cabbage is also easy to grow and cook. “Boil a bit of bacon in a great big pot, and then throw in cut cabbage. People love it,” she said.
    Lamb, too, is a staple of modern Irish cooking.
    “It’s very good for lamb in Ireland, with the hills perfect for lambs and sheep. So the meat has very little fat and is sweet and delicious as the sheep would have eaten heath and wildflowers on the hills.”
    Lamb stew is the second choice to corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. But, Allen says, a traditional Irish stew would have had “quite a lot carrots and onions and very little lamb.” In a subsistence culture, meat was a luxury, with farm animals raised to be sold to bring in a little money. “People would rarely have eaten lamb, and then only an injured one.”
    Order the standards, and you’ll be doing traditional Irish eating on St. Patrick’s Day. Experiment a little, and you’ll still be in the Irish tradition.
    “We’ve had a Renaissance in Irish cooking,” said Allen, who is one of the movement’s artists. “Our country is so small, and many of the farms are small, making small production, with chickens and ducks as well as grass-fed beef and lamb, herbs and vegetables and our wonderful dairy foods, including many farmstead cheese makers. It’s all good for you as well as safe and good.”
    So St. Patrick won’t frown if you order Irish sushi (stuffed cabbage rolls, as shown on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives), smoked salmon with macaroni and cheese or Irish bacon pasta at Galway Bay.
    Or dine on stout-braised beef shoulder with root vegetables plus filet of cod with Irish cheddar cream sauce at Honey’s Harvest in Rose Haven.
    Or even pop Ruben Balls, a St. Patrick’s Day special at Heavenly Chicken and Ribs in Dunkirk.

Music and Good Times

    Music and good times are as much a part of St. Patrick’s Day as food and drink, and each of our Irish outposts is laying on both.
    Brian Boru celebrates St. Patrick’s week with music, dance and face painting. Thursday, March 15, the Broesler School of Irish Dance performs at 6:30pm, and Sean Pelan plays at 7:30pm. On Friday, Dermot Power plays at 9pm. St Patrick’s day begins with breakfast from 8am. There’s also face painting (starting at $5) and music: Brendon Pelan at 11:30am; the Brothers McGinnis at 3:30pm; and the Matt McConville Trio at 7:30pm. (Severna Park; rsvp: 410-975-2678; $5 cover from 2pm)
    Castlebay’s celebration begins with Irish brunch Friday and Saturday from 7:30am-1pm. On the saint’s day, there’ll be “fabulous entertainment, from 2:30pm to 2am. Singing with the Steve Ports Band are pub owner Vincent Quinlan and William Jones from Dublin. (Annapolis; no reservations but “we manage to take care of everybody”: 410-626-0165)
    Fadó parties a whole week. St. Baldrick’s Day festivities and head shavings, begun last weekend, are set to raise $100,000 to fight children’s cancer.
    The party continues Friday, March 16, with the Paddython Countdown Carb-up Party at 10pm with live music from Weird Science at 10pm and eat and drink up Pints and Pancakes from 11pm till close. That’s when a couple will be chosen for March 17’s Paddython, a VIP marathon trip to Fadós from Annapolis to Philadelphia to D.C. and back.
    The high-energy St Patrick’s Day Bash begins at 7am with WRNR for Pints and Pancakes, and continues with 6 Nations Rugby, a Bushmill’s Ice Luge, a Bailey’s Mudslide Bar and live music all day long from The Rovers, Weems Creek Jam Session, Crossing Celtic and Sly 45. A trip to Ireland is the party’s door prize. (Park Place Annapolis: 410-626-0069)
    Galway Bay serves a special St. Pat’s Day menu for three meals beginning with breakfast. There’s music from noon to midnight, with Ray Weaver taking the early shift and Dermot Power playing from  6pm to midnight. (Annapolis; rsvp: 410-263-8333; $5 cover from 2pm)
    At Heavenly Chicken and Ribs, you’ll find green beer and green wine, too, from local winery Friday’s Creek, to wash down your Ruben Balls with spicy thousand island dipping sauce or more traditional fare of fish and chips or corned beef and cabbage. Wear your kilt — no need to be exactly accurate here. (Dunkirk: 410-286-9660; 10:30am-10pm)
    Honey’s Harvest’s special Irish Supper includes Spencer Nitchie and Jim Mahshie of Poirt playing traditional Irish songs and inviting you to sing along. (Rose Haven; rsvp: 410-257-7757)
    The Irish Channel opens at 8am for, Coyne says, “an American tradition called Kegs and Eggs.” Irish classics are served all weekend. Terry Glaze, Andy O Driscoll and Matt McConville play St. Patrick’s Day. On Sunday, March 18, the Rogues, Renaissance Festival regulars, play Celtic music. (Crofton: 410-451- 4222)
    St. Patrick’s Day at Killarney House will be “mayhem,” says David Lyng. “We’ve been fully booked since the middle of February, but we’ll try to get you in and make the experience positive. There’s live music from noon to midnight, with Dermot Power opening at noon; the traditional Irish group TIPSC continuing at 3pm and; Ray Weaver playing from 6 till midnight. (Davidsonville: 410-798-8700)