Irish pubs are known for their hospitality, witty patrons and damn fine beer. The Irish themselves -- and their pubs, for that matter -- don't have a particularly strong reputation for food. Being an island in the cold waters of the northern Atlantic, traditional fare typically includes fish, lamb, cabbage and the ubiquitous potato. Nothing cutting edge or overtly trendy, just hearty food you can wash down with a strong pint.
Molly Malone's Pub, the former Dubliner, fits this profile like a glove. The restaurant re-opened St. Patrick's Day and was recently renamed for an Irish Folk song in a contest the pub ran. Longtime patrons were pleased to see that, even with a new identity, Molly's continues some of their favorite Dubliner traditions: It still offers a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit on Tuesday nights and Irish music on Friday and Saturday nights.
The new owners have also kept the atmosphere intact. A shiny tin ceiling reflects the warmth of the wood interior filled with Guinness paraphernalia, a working fireplace and a long bar you can belly up to for a wide array of Irish and English beverage choices.
After several months of tweaking, the restaurant's chef, Leighton Zimmy, finally had the regular menu in place, so it was time to grab a friend and settle in with a Chardonnay ($7) and a glass of Michael Collins single malt scotch ($8) to test the waters.
My friend wanted to hide in the smoke-free back room, but I convinced her that it would be more fun to hang out in the front area where other patrons were chatting and watching a Reds game on the bar's two television screens. Molly's appeals to the twentysomething set looking for a spot to have a beer with coworkers -- the tables were filled with several such groups.
The bar, however, was manned by folks more interested in the game and some barbs with the bartender.
Our server, friendly and accommodating, handed us two wrinkled, pink paper menus as she seated us next to the fireplace. Someone should tell them that the phrase "You eat with your eyes" applies to the menu as well as the dishes. When I'm handed an unkempt or dirty paper menu, I already have a bad taste in my mouth.
Still, the actual items on the menu seemed promising enough. American Irish pubs often blend traditional island grub with American pub fare and come out with menus that include fish and chips, shepherd's pie, hamburgers and wings. Molly's follows this tradition with offerings such as MM Pub Chili ($4), Banshee Wings ($7.50), Hamburgers ($8) and a Corned Beef Sandwich ($7.50). They also have a handful of higher-end items like Sugar & Spice Salmon ($15) served with tomato chutney marmalade and roast potatoes and Bowtie Pasta ($12) with chicken, garlic, shallots, kale, pine nuts and tarragon in a gorgonzola broth.
My friend blanched at the sight of that last ingredient list and quickly selected a safer bet, the Fish and Chips ($8). The last time we ate at The Dubliner we split a tasty order of that very same dish, so I was curious to see if this was a tradition Molly's would continue. I kept to the Irish part of the menu as well and ordered Shepherd's Pie ($8).
Before dinner we munched on Potato Skins ($6) while we chatted about food phobias. The texture of the potatoes made us both suspect they were straight from the freezer, but the half inch of melted cheddar cheese and bacon did a good job of overcoming that.
As our dinner plates arrived, my friend, who has a reputation for a cast-iron stomach, admitted she couldn't stand fat on meat. Luckily, she didn't order the Shepherd's Pie.
Swimming in gravy under a lattice of piped mashed potatoes amongst green beans, peas and corn lurked the biggest pieces of gristle I have ever chewed. As I studied a piece on the end of my fork, debating whether or not to go on, she looked at me and said, "Don't eat that." I took her advice.
While her meal didn't live up to the memory of the last hunk of fried fish we'd had in that room, it was easily the best part of the meal. The ale-battered haddock came with potato planks (large French fries) and some lackluster coleslaw, but with a little lemon the fish made a good, substantial entrée choice.
I will say I'm glad to see Pleasant Ridge hasn't lost a comfortable place to gather. All neighborhoods should have that.
With a little more emphasis on the food, Molly Malone's should reclaim The Dubliner's exalted place in no time. ©
Molly Malone's Irish Pub
Go: 6111 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge
Hours: 11 a.m.-12 a. m. Tuesday-Thursday (kitchen closes at 9 p.m.); 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday (kitchen closes at 10); 10 a.m.-12 a.m. Sunday (kitchen closes at 9)
Prices: Inexpensive to moderate
Payment: Major credit cards accepted
Red Meat Alternatives: Chicken, fish, pasta, grilled cheese