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Archive for Thursday, May 14, 1998

S RECREATES ATMOSPHERE OF TRADITIONAL PUB

May 14, 1998

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O'Dowd's Little Dublin balances regional fare with Irish favorites.

Walk in the wide front door of O'Dowd's Little Dublin, and you feel like you've discovered a real Irish pub in the heart of Kansas City's Plaza district.

The sound system pipes Irish folk music. Dark wood, lead glass and subdued lighting create a cozy intimacy. Straight ahead glows the main attraction of any pub worth its salt: a beautifully appointed bar well stocked with draught beers and a fine selection of Irish whiskeys.

My wife and I wandered in early on a recent Saturday evening, when the Plaza's fancier restaurants were packed with high school students dressed for prom night. We were quickly seated in one of O'Dowd's banquettes, which feature plush cushions on one side and spartan wooden stools on the other. Couples and families with children filled the main floor, which was noisy with spirited conversation. On the roof-top patio a rowdier mix of revelers enjoyed the nice weather.

If you've ever been to Ireland, you know there's an art to drawing that country's signature brew, Guinness Stout. It's an art O'Dowd's bartenders have mastered. My pint of Guinness (an Imperial 20 ounces, another authentic touch) was delicious.

According to manager Pascal Duffy, capturing a true Irish flavor has been a goal from the beginning, from construction to staffing to creating the menu.

"Most Irish restaurants you see in America have the shamrock in the window," says Duffy, himself a native of Ireland. "They're shot-and-a-beer bars that don't recreate the pubs in Ireland, where you can have a drink and enjoy dinner as well."

O'Dowd's interior furnishings and fixtures were built in Ireland, then shipped to Kansas City and assembled on site, Duffy says. When the restaurant opened in November 1996, four Irish staffers helped get it up and running.

The menu balances authentic Irish dishes with regional fare. To start, we skipped the ubiquitous chicken tenders and potato skins in favor of potted salmon. Baked salmon and herb butter with a touch of cream cheese make a tasty spread that goes well with O'Dowd's soda bread.

Entrees include Irish classics like shepherd's pie, grilled lamb salad and old-style fish and chips. More adventurous eaters can choose from four kinds of boxty (a traditional stuffed potato pancake) or sample the Dublin Coddle. This meat-heavy dish features "sausage bangers," smoked bacon, potatoes and kale in a hearty broth. The menu defines coddle as a traditional late-night Irish dish served after the pubs close.

My wife ordered the Murphy's Amber Vegetable Skewers, two huge skewers of grilled vegetables glazed with homemade barbecue sauce. A nod to Kansas City's barbecue tradition, this dish comes with a distinctively spiced braised caraway cabbage and "celtic potato wedges." These fancily named steak fries were delectable -- crispy on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth tender on the inside.

I had worse luck with my main course, the 10-ounce Gaelic Steak with Irish whiskey sauce. Advertised as a prime cut of ribeye, the finished item had the texture of cube steak and was undercooked to boot. I decided it was no bargain at $14 and switched to shepherd's pie.

Our waitress cheerfully complied, and in short order I was enjoying an ample serving of potatoes, lamb and beef in a rich, spicy sauce. Fresh green beans, peas, carrots and leeks added a crunchy texture to this delicious dish.

A good selection of desserts (including the house specialty, bread pudding) and after-dinner drinks are also available. We finished with the Tipperary Tort, a decadent chocolate treat big enough for two, and Irish coffees. O'Dowd's even stocks cigars, for another after-dinner indulgence.

Prices for the fancier items are a little steep, (though probably not out of line with other Plaza restaurants) and, if the Gaelic Steak is any indication, not worth it. Stick to the more basic fare and you shouldn't be disappointed.

-- The Mag's phone message number is 832-7146. Send e-mail to jbiles@ljworld.com.

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