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The Goodness of Irish

A guide to eating and drinking through St. Patrick's weekend

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, there are numerous faux pas that one should take care to avoid when preparing authentic Irish cuisine. For starters, despite the high demand for it this time of year, corned beef and cabbage is not a traditional Irish dish. Rather, bacon and cabbage is. Furthermore, adding whiskey or ale to a dish, or crème de menthe to a dessert, does not in fact make it Irish. These are just a few of the more common misconceptions.

It just so happens that none of the “Irish” restaurants in Western New York steer clear of the Irish-American hybrid pitfall, and only a handful of them actually serve traditional Irish dishes.

W. J. Morrissey Irish Pub on Mississippi Street is one of the few that does. “We try to maintain a strong traditional Irish food base,” said owner Dennis Brinkworth, who recalls presenting the pub’s chef with stacks of Irish cookbooks to peruse. Fancying itself an Irish-Victorian-style pub, W. J. Morrissey not only devotes a portion of its menu to traditional Irish fare but also boasts intricate crafted-in-Ireland décor. Serving dishes like Irish stew and shepherd’s pie, the pub reflects the rich culture of its founder, Irish immigrant W. J. Morrissey. While not a traditional Irish dish, one of the pub’s newer entrées, Guinness short ribs, makes good use of the popular Irish-born stout. The pub also features weekly specials such as $5 salads on Wednesdays and numerous drink specials during the hockey games. They are also proud to present their new internet jukebox system and DJ hockey trivia following weekend games.

According to Brinkworth, the four characteristics that make up an Irish pub are authenticity, food, music, and drink. It is these four criteria in combination with good ol’ Irish fun, or “craic” (pronounced “crack”), that create an atmosphere in W. J. Morrissey reminiscent of the Emerald Isle.

Saturday in the Old Neighborhood

Sunday’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is a spit-and-polish affair, at least between the curbs—what happens on the sidewalks can be a different story. There is something stagey about it, a barrier between the show and the audience that is enforced by cops on foot and motorcycle.

If you’ve never experienced the Old Neighborhood Parade in the Old First Ward, prepare yourself for a more characteristically Buffalonian experience. At the Old Neighborhood Parade, there is no division between the audience and parade; they are the same people. Far-flung families and local businesses march together. There are precious few cops on patrol—they’re all in the parade, and they all know everyone.

Here, too, there are places to wet your whistle, before, during, and after the parade. South Buffalo is loaded with corner bars, of course, and the Irish Center is a five-minute drive, but stay on foot and check out these three local spots:

Gene McCarthy’s Tavern, at the corner of Hamburg and Republic Streets in Buffalo’s Old First Ward, is a natural choice. Be warned: The place, which is under new ownership, will be packed.

Then there’s Adolf’s Tavern, right on South Park. It, too, will be crowded.

At a slight remove from the action is Swannie House, at the corner of Ohio and Michigan. It’s going to be warm, which means one of the nicest little patios in the city should be open.

Also devoting a portion of its menu to traditional Irish fare is the Irishman Pub & Eatery located on Main Street in Williamsville. The Irishman showcases authentic dishes such as shepherd’s pie made with lamb and Black’n Tan mac’n bangers, which consists of seared pork sausage served aside macaroni and topped with a homemade Black’n Tan havarti cheese sauce. The restaurant also features an Irish-inspired brunch menu, several Irish-inspired sandwich and wrap choices, and an enticing selection of hot liqueur-spiked coffee and chocolate beverages to thoroughly warm you on a cold day. The Irishman’s menu selection offers a refreshingly well-balanced blend of Irish and American cuisine. The restaurant hosts occasional live music, including “Traditional Irish Sessions” from noon to 3pm on Saturdays. They will also be holding a “St. Patrick’s Weekend Under the Tent” event featuring entertainment by the Rince Na Tiarna Irish dancers at 6pm on Friday, 1pm and 5:15pm on Saturday, and 4pm on Sunday and live music provided by Stone Row Celtic Band, the Heritage Band, Callanach, and Joe Head. The tent will open at 5pm on Friday, 11am on Saturday, and noon on Sunday.

Deeming itself “home of the Ulster fry,” D’Arcy McGee’s Irish Pub on Franklin Street keeps at least a portion of Ireland’s cuisine alive here in Western New York. An Ulster fry, or “full breakfast,” is essentially, for lack of a more appetizing term, a mish-mash of foods. McGee’s Ulster fry, which is prepared using ingredients traditional to the Irish dish, consists of Irish sausage, back bacon, black and white pudding, potato bread, soda farl (bread), fried tomatoes, eggs, and mushrooms.

The menu at McGee’s also offers a side of champ, which is a traditional Irish dish consisting of mashed potatoes and scallions, to accompany the various entrées. In the midst of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities that will be happening around downtown Buffalo this weekend (the parades, the excessive green beer-drinking, etc.), D’Arcy McGee’s will offer spirited entertainment via the local Irish folk band Crikwater, who will perform immediately following the St. Patrick’s Day parade on Sunday.

Ulrich’s Tavern, located at the corner of Ellicott and Virginia Street, is a unique three-way hybrid restaurant in that it serves German-American food while striving for the close-knit feel of an Irish tavern. To top off the tavern-like feel, Ulrich’s keeps a number of European as well as local beers on tap. Ulrich’s, originally housing Ziegele Brewing, has supported local brewing companies since its founding in 1868, and currently supports Buffalo’s own Flying Bison Brewery. Overflowing with historical narrative, Ulrich’s has long been a haven for Buffalonians to bask in the rich company of good friends and feel-good food and drink. Today, Ulrich’s embraces both its Irish and German roots by occasionally showcasing live Irish and German music.

The Blackthorn Restaurant and Pub on Seneca Street serves mainly American cuisine, but, like Ulrich’s, prides itself in contributing hearty pub-like hospitality to Buffalo’s casual dining scene.

Sean Patrick’s, located on Millersport Highway in Getzville, takes the pub-like atmosphere to a whole new level: classy. Somewhat surprisingly, Sean Patrick’s has German roots much like those of Ulrich’s, having been established by a German immigrant in 1948 under the name of the Pine Lodge. With a number of semi-secluded oversized booths wrapping around the bar area as well as a quaint dining area, Sean Patrick’s gives diners the option of either enjoying a quiet, intimate dinner or taking advantage of the company gathered around the bar. The rich polished woodwork throughout the restaurant, along with the characteristic wrought iron rail and streetlamps enclosing the bar, create a rich, ambient setting ideal for savoring warm conversation and comforting food.

Serving primarily Irish-American cuisine, the kitchen staff at Sean Patrick’s whips up a traditional shepherd’s pie that is the epitome of comfort food, and, while perhaps a bit on the pricey side, the generous portion could certainly serve more than one person. Sean Patrick’s is offering a special package in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, which includes entertainment provided by the local folk band Rush the Growler between 6pm and 10pm, as well as Irish dancers at 7pm, and a dinner buffet featuring shepherd’s pie and Irish beef stew and a drink—all for $25 per person.

While local restaurants don’t have too much to show in the way of pure, authentic Irish food, Buffalo’s already close-knit community works in the favor of restaurateurs when it comes to creating an Irish pub-like atmosphere. The sheer popularity of these types of restaurants just goes to show that it is not always about the food when eating out. A hearty meal becomes that much more satisfying when it is enjoyed in good company.

So as they say in Ireland: May the roof above us never fall in. And may the friends gathered below it never fall out.

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