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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Pub Remix

By B.A. Nilsson

 

The Irish Times Pub and Restaurant

14 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 583-0003. Serving lunch 11:30-3:30 daily, dinner from 5 daily. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Irish-inspired

Entrée price range: $7 (Irish rasher BLT) to $14 (corned beef and cabbage)

Ambiance: spacious pub

Comfort food, camaraderie and cold (but not too cold) beer are what I seek in a pub—although I can let the camaraderie part slip, as I’m not of the disposition to chat up barside seatmates. Yet, confession, I’m told, is good for the soul, and my soul could use a shot of goodness. So I’ll tell you what’s probably no surprise: I know next to nothing about sports, a topic that dominates any bar at which I’ve taken a seat. Should the conversation even once sidetrack onto, oh, the use of historically informed performance techniques in Schubert and Mendelssohn, I’d be right there. Oh well.

As it happened, my daughter and I visited the Irish Times during the lunch hours when the bar was almost empty and customers thronged the tables inside and out and on various levels. We were led to an upstairs room and took seats where we had a splendid view of the large, warehouse-like space.

The Irish Times is on busy Phila Street in Saratoga’s downtown, occupying a space where a brew pub once flourished. Niall and Nikki Roche (he’s Irish, she’s a Yank) relocated from New York City, where he’d been involved in operating several Irish pubs. They wanted to raise a family in a more peaceful locale, and headed north.

When I think Irish pub, I picture a place like Molly’s Shebeen, near East 22nd Street in Gramercy area, and I’m suspecting that the Roches had a location like that—small, sawdust-carpeted—in mind. The Phila Street building is hardly that, but it was gutted and refurbished as nicely as such a vast space would allow.

Sixteen types of beer are on tap, ranging from big idiomatic brews like Guinness and Smithwick’s to American basics like Bud. The craft beer section lists brews from Saratoga, Cooperstown and Troy if you want the local buzz. By-the-glass wine is in the $7 range and features a broad selection that is bottle-priced just south of $30. There’s also a hilariously overpriced reserve wine list, and why not? If people want to pay it, might as well make some extra scratch.

The menu puts Irishness and pubishness in a context that ranges further and often familiarly afield. Irish nachos ($11)? They feature corned beef. As does the Irish Times spring roll ($9), cleverly wrapping corned beef, cabbage and Swiss cheese in a deep-fried wonton. I liked the idea better than the execution, but only because the frying process produced an exceedingly greasy—in fact, downright drippy—result, indicative of underheated oil.

Chicken wings, coconut shrimp and stuffed potato skins ($9 to $10 each) are among the mainstream starters. Irish sausage roll, corned beef sliders, hummus and flatbread and a ploughman’s platter ($7 to $9) are more idiomatic. Potato-leek soup ($5) and Guinness beef stew ($8/$13) are among the moister foodstuffs, joined by a soup of the day. We sampled a delicious butternut squash soup that was thick and sweet and, if anything, too rich.

This came alongside a grilled vegetable wrap ($9), with marinated and grilled squash at its core, and eggplant, peppers and greens filling out the pesto-wrapper-wrapped mix. My daughter is trying to eat in a more healthy manner—certainly in a more healthy manner than I—and often now orders more out of virtue than desire. So it took her a while to realize that the promised goat cheese never made it into the wrap, and by the time she noticed it didn’t make any sense to try to remediate it, although our server offered a make-up order once we pointed out the problem.

A dozen other sandwiches are part of the list, priced from $7 (a BLT that substitutes ham-like Irish rasher for the bacon) to $13 (lobster roll salad on a whole wheat roll), including a corned beef Reuben, three types of chicken, a couple of burgers and fancifully named items like the Arkle (tomatoes, mozzarella, romaine) and the Nijinsky (grilled chicken breast with mango chutney and smoked gouda).

Make a meal out of a salad by ordering a Caesar ($8) or cobb ($12). The caprese and pear salads ($10 each) are lighter, thanks to their component fruit. The grilled salmon and baby spinach salad ($13) seems to cover every food group.

But you want to know about the fish and chips ($14). Or at least the corned beef and cabbage ($14) or shepherd’s pie ($12), those most pub-intensive entrées. I agonized over which to choose, then threw away all dietary caution and went for the All Day Irish Breakfast ($12), hoping to erase the still-lingering memory of many a crappy breakfast at U.K. hotels. Perhaps said crappiness is part of the appeal. Although the sausage (bangers) was far better than what I tasted (and couldn’t finish) overseas, it seemed to have been cooked much earlier in the week and allowed to languish. In fact, the whole plate seemed to have sat for a while, which isn’t good when you’ve got fried eggs involved. Circlets of black and white pudding, rasher bacon, and the inevitable grilled tomatoes complete the dish, with a very nice slice of Irish soda bread.

I savored a Smithwicks while easing through lunch, noting how nicely a good pint smoothes over any inconvenience. And, in the end, isn’t that what a pub is all about?

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Schenectady Day Nursery’s 11th annual fundraising event, “A Little Bit of Jazz & More,” will take place from 5:30 to 8 today (Thursday, April 29) in the Fenimore Gallery at Proctors Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady). The “more” part of the proceedings includes a cornucopia of food, including a carving station with turkey breast and roast beef, a pasta station, an hors d’oeuvres display and, if you don’t want to fetch your food, circulating trays with even more hors d’oeuvres, including sesame chicken, a Mediterranean artichoke tart, shrimp Wellington, spanakopita and more. There will be complimentary beer and wine and Chocolates by Lindt. The jazz part is a performance by Colleen Pratt and Friends. The event includes a benefit drawing with a choice of a $500 gift card at either Town TV or Empress Travel, and gift baskets sponsored by the Schenectady Day Nursery Board of Directors. Reservations are $50 per person or $100 for honorary committee status, and may be made by calling Jim Kalohn at 894-6305. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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