Mar 08, 2017

St. Stephens Green Publick House

By Lori Draz

This month, we went green. No, not organic vegetarian dishes grown with solar power and filtered rain water. We went Irish green and took off for St. Stephens Green Publick House in Spring Lake. The restaurant is located in the former Eggiman’s Tavern, which closed a decade ago. This place has pub in its genes; with its dark woodwork, stone hearths, large, friendly bar with more than a dozen beers on tap, and a team of chatty bartenders, it delivers the real pub experience. It was voted best Irish pub in the state, and in a neighborhood that seems to have a tavern on every corner, we couldn’t find parking at 6:00 p.m. It’s robust, from the big menu, the congenial crowd of diners and drinkers from ages 8 to 80, to the huge portions, and busy staff. There is a lot of life here.

We settled down to a basket of very fresh and tasty Irish soda bread and set out to make our selections. This large menu has something for anyone. The wine list is not large, but has some solid choices, and there are some intriguing specialty cocktails. We began with four appetizers, including the Boxty Potato Pancakes. Boxty is a traditional Irish potato pancake that contains a mixture of mashed and grated potatoes. It’s a thick cake that’s part pancake, part hash brown and served golden brown, and the accompanying chucky applesauce was tart and tasty. The second was the baked brie, which comes with bread, grapes, and sliced green apples. It was more oven-warmed than baked and the brie was only about the size of a coaster, but it is a fun dish to share. The third was the “house favorite” lamb sliders: three thick and juicy lamb burgers topped with fontina cheese, tomato, frisee, and rosemary garlic aioli. These are very tasty, but order only if you’re hungry. Our last choice was Killybeg Shrimp. This was a most unusual and surprisingly tasty presentation. You’d guess the Irish know what to do with potatoes, but this one is something to see. The potato is piped in thin ribbons around the entire shrimp, like thread on a spool. Makes you wonder who has that job! The smoked horseradish sauce was very punchy; in fact, all the sauces and dips were really tasty and boldly flavored. I would skip the potato leek soup. With so much to choose from, try something else.

On to the main course. Our foursome stuck to the entrees, though the specialty sandwiches looked great. Diner one had the Guinness beef stew and it was authentic and delicious! The well-developed flavors of hearty sirloin cubes and vegetables seemed like they had simmered in the Guinness Stout-flavored soup base for days. This is rainy day food and really satisfying! Diner two picked the Chicken Pot Pie and enjoyed it, though the filling was soupier than “ala king-ish.” If you like a pot pie that clings to the spoon, I would try something else, but the pastry top, which may be the best part, was light and fluffy. Diner three choose the fish and chips, and what a catch it was. The ale-battered thick filets of cod were fried to a golden brown. There were two and each was a meal in itself. It is served in a basket of amazingly light and crispy French fries, with a side of cole slaw, tartar, and Marie Rose sauce. It was just what you want fish and chips to be: hot, crunchy, golden, moist, and thick, and it would be great shared at the bar with a cold glass of ale. I went for the super traditional Shepard’s Pie. This dish can go either way, from tasting like leftovers to really hitting the mark. This one hit the mark. It’s served in a big oblong dish, with piped swirled potatoes that are broiled toasty. The filling is small chunks of beef with carrots, pea, and potatoes in a thick rich gravy. It was great – and maybe even better as the next day’s lunch.

We selected three desserts. One was the double fudge chocolate brownie sundae, which was a thick brownie topped with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream. There’s nothing innovative here, but it was nicely dense and chocolatey. We also had the carrot cake, which was equally dense and delivered on the carrot cake flavor with a not-too-sweet frosting. The third was the Irish bread and butter pudding, topped with a warm Irish whiskey sauce. It’s labeled “A Must Try” and we agreed. This was our favorite. The cake-y treat was light and hearty and different. Try this. I had the regular coffee, which was hot and fresh. Another diner chose the Irish variety, which is served traditionally with cream floating on the top. This diner had actually had Irish coffee in the very restaurant where it originated in San Francisco, and he liked this one so much, he had two.

They have lots of specials, like a Saturday morning dart league, Twilight Dining Monday through Friday from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m., an afternoon and a late night Happy Hour, $7.95 lunch specials, plus live traditional Irish music on Tuesdays and live entertainment Thursday through Sunday.

The cost: Low to moderate

What we liked: The lively energy and sense of community, the big menu, the beer selection, the authentic feel, the warm wooden walls, fireplace, and the hearty food.

What could be better: This place is maximizing everything they have. We wished there was more parking or a more modern bathroom, but this is an older building. Not much to change at all.

We give it 4 and a three quarter J’s.

St. Stephens Green Publick House is located at 2031 Highway 71 in Spring Lake Heights. They’re open Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Call (732) 449 -2626. Visit www.ssgpub.com.