I used to wonder why some bars brand themselves as Irish pubs when they’re not. Wouldn’t it be easier to be Fred’s Bar and not O’Malley’s Olde Ale House?
I have to confess that I’ve never been to an actual pub in Ireland, but I have been to several in England and Wales — and to be honest, they’re more like old neighborhood taverns than the various erstwhile “pubs” around town. Not glamorous, a bit shopworn, but filled with camaraderie and excellent beer.
So when I got the assignment to try Dingle House Irish Pub in West Chester, I had my doubts. But their Web site mentioned a pretty town in County Kerry and an owner whose ma had dressed him in a kilt, so I kept an open mind and gathered up the members of Covington’s Molly Malone’s Irish Pub’s winning pub quiz team to head up north.
Our team of pub wonders arrived to a shiny, new, crowded house on a Friday evening. We tried the 20-ounce Dingle House Ale ($5.50) as we waited to be seated, and while it didn’t have much head the flavor was excellent. The mood of the place was very festive. There were college football bowl games playing on numerous TV sets, and I liked the look of some fried oysters on their way to a patron at the bar.
The servers, male and female, were dressed in tartan plaid kilts — Scottish tartans. The Irish do wear kilts, but they’re generally solid colors (the most common is saffron). One of my guests casually observed, “They must have bought the entry level package.” He said that a friend of his had a job selling “Irish pub kits” and that there are different levels of “authenticity” a bar can purchase.
“Claddagh in Newport is the top of the line,” he explained.
“They have the best design you can buy. This is likely just a starter kit.”
Really? Sure enough, an article online in Slate from March 2006 backs this up, theorizing that “Ireland, as much of the world knows it, was invented in 1991 when the Irish Pub Company (IPC) formed with the mission to populate the world with authentic Irish bars.” From IPC’s Web site: “The Irish pub is a high gross revenue concept with high profit margins — which deliver a fast payback.”
So there you have it. Branding, Disneyfying, ROI and globalization at its best, marketed by Guinness, Harp and Bailey’s Irish Cream from Dublin to Dubai and everywhere in between.
But back to Dingle House and that pint of ale, a little fruity and very drinkable. There are 20 beers on tap — many favorites of my pub buddies including Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. We ordered a broad selection of starters, and the servers did a great job of getting them all out at the same time.
The Fried Oysters ($11.95) that looked so yummy were, unfortunately, overbreaded and covered in sauce that tasted so strongly of bacon that the half-shell presentation was their only remaining link to the sea. The Spinach and Artichoke dip that was featured on the Sampler Platter ($13.95) had no discernible taste beyond cream cheese. But the platter’s hot wings were spicy, and the basket of Onion Rings ($7.50) was a hit.
Unfortunately, the seasoning we liked in the onion ring breading was also sprinkled liberally on the potato wedges that the menu calls “chips.” (Note: British chips are French fries, not wedges.) Fish & Chips ($12.95) with wedges? Not bloody likely. The cod was authentically battered, though.
The Shepherd’s Pie ($10.95) was much spicier than any English food short of chicken jalfrezi (that’s a joke, yes) but the meat, peas and carrots were fine, and the mashed potatoes on top — though salty — got the thumbs up. As the college teams scored on the tellies overhead, this was our winning dish of the night.
We also appreciated the effort on the Roasted Chicken Napolean (sic) ($14.95). When Napoleon attempted to conquer Britain by landing in Ireland, his ships sank and nothing came of it, but this pasta dish was somewhat more effective. Less distinguished were the Corned Beef sandwich ($8.75) and bland Irish Stew ($10.95). Perking up the stew would have been just a matter of adding a little pepper and shot of brandy. The Shamrock Salad ($11.95), a nod to the South Beach of Ireland, was overwhelmed by sweet emerald-hued dressing. Our vegetarian lass was quite pleased with her Marinated Vegetable Wrap ($7.95), refreshingly not based on the ubiquitous portabella.
We gamely tasted the Bread Pudding ($5.95) — didn’t like the odd mix of banana bread and sauce, but quite liked the Creme Brulee ($5.95). Camaraderie and cold beer were excellent at Dingle House, and that’s what you should go for.
Go: 9102 West Chester Towne Centre Drive, West Chester
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight daily
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Fish, veggie wrap
Accessibility: Fully accessible