Eat me, I’m Irish

There’s more to Irish food than potatoes and beer — although many a college student has subsisted on such for longer periods than they’d admit to their mothers.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, mom.

But it’s long past time for our perceptions about Irish cuisine to move from the pedantic to the sublime.

Much of traditional Irish cuisine consists of down-home cooking. It was, after all, an agricultural economy controlled by the British for several years. So you’ll excuse them for not developing a lot of unnecessary cooking implements and fancy names for things.

Instead, they focused on simple, hearty, filling fare, much like our grandmothers used to make.

It is surprisingly simple to find a fine Irish meal in Augusta. You just have to know what you’re looking for.

Breakfast at Sunrise Grill
The Sunrise Grill in Martinez is a regular destination for the anytime breakfast crowd. If you are in a hurry, it has bar seating as well — what’s more Irish than that?

Ah, we joke.

A typical Irish Breakfast, sometimes called an Ulster Fry for you Northern Ireland Protestants out there, consists of bacon, eggs, sausage, fried tomato and fried potato.

Sunrise Grill, winner of the Metro’s Best Breakfast award, has all of that and more on their menu.

Of course, a really traditional Irish breakfast may also include black or white pudding, which is a kind of pork sausage. You aren’t likely to find it in town, except by individual order at a specialty shop.

But you will find the Patty O’Sullivan omelet at Sunrise Grill. Something tells us there’s an Irish connection there.

Cheese at The Public House
Long before yuppies embraced “artisanal” food products, the Irish economy depended on them. Having been quite poor and small for much of recent history, large-scale farming corporations never took hold.

That means that dairy herds graze freely outdoors and Irish dairy farmers use more traditional practices than American. For that, Irish cheese is all the rage in Europe.

The Public House does a cheese sampler appetizer that will prove why that is. From Irish Cheddar to Cashel Blue, the simplicity of savory cheese on salty or herbed crackers is the perfect snack or light meal when paired with a salad.

But remember to order up one of Eric and Sarah Norton’s lovely wine picks. And say “Slainte!”

Oysters at Sheehans
Before you start laughing, remember that Ireland is an island known for cockles and mussels alive-alive-oh.

The nation has a healthy fishing industry for species like cod and salmon. Sheehan’s owner John Beck does fresh Apalachicola oysters fried in cornmeal batter with a Creole remoulade.

It may not sound like a traditionally Irish way of doing things, but it has delicious results, nonetheless. And these days, Eire is a cosmopolitan country with a strong international influence. Chinese, Indian and African food is readily available.

Besides, Beck says the majority of so-called “Irish” food that people request are actually British pub foods, like Shepherd’s Pie.

Irish food names are not as recognizable or pronounceable as British food. But the venerable fish-and-chips offering occupies first place on Sheehan’s entrees list and a lovely salmon dish follows closely behind.

Venison at Verandah Grill
The native red deer is the largest mammal in Ireland, grazing on grasses and supplementing its diet with nuts. It must have looked like a walking feast to medieval Celts, and indeed it was.

Historic documents reference “fulacht fiadh,” which were essentially holes in the ground that people filled with water. Meat was placed in the water and cooked by dropping hot stones into it, sort of like a New England clam bake.

There are easier ways of getting your deer meat these days, like allowing the professionals at Verandah Grill to serve it up in medallion form on butter bean and country ham ragout, with collard and tasso raviolis.

Mashed Potatoes at The Snug
Potatoes are a staple in Ireland, so it’s perhaps no surprise that they also have about two million ways to prepare them, from shredded for “boxtys” (which are kind of like latkes) to boiled for “coddle” which is just a breakfast combination of potatoes and pork.

But none is as beloved as the noble mashed potato. Toss in some onions and cabbage or kale, and you just made yourself something called “colcannon.”

Top mashed potatoes with green onion, and you just crated a dish called “champ.” You’ll find mashed potatoes all over town, but none quite so famous as those that The Snug has been serving alongside their Black and Blue steak.

Ask them to toss on those green onions and say “Tapadh leat” (pronounced “Tapah lat”). It means “thank you.”

A Pint at Metro Coffeehouse
We promised ourselves that we weren’t going to do this. But you simply cannot celebrate St. Patrick’s Day without a pint at the pub.

And since you already ate at Sheehan’s (you did, didn’t you?) come on downtown for a drink. Guinness is the No. 2 seller at this warm, wooded watering hole.

But they also carry Killian’s and Harp, and a number of other imported beers. But if it’s not Irish, it’s not worth it.


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