Dublin and Palm Trees

Guinness introduced porter and stout beers to the world at the turn of the Nineteenth Century (the former named after porters from London's fish and vegetable markets who preferred a potent brew). In the current century, ten million glasses of Guinness are consumed worldwide every day. On a recent afternoon visit to JohnMartin's Restaurant & Irish Pub, I was seated at the bar next to a man who looked to be contributing his fair share to that daily quota, quaffing the stuff as if it were St. Patrick's Day; maybe this was his warmup.

I'd like to say we engaged in witty bar banter, like Beckett and Bono might if seated side by side in the same circumstance, but the only words spoken were his, when he asked me to pass the salt for his fish and chips. That was the first hint that maybe this quest of mine to find the best corned beef and cabbage in town was not going to be quite as scintillating an expedition as I had hoped.

I should have known better at the outset. After all, there are no Kilarney Roses in the Miami-Dade phone book, nor is there a single Blarney Stone. There used to be hundreds of these Irish bar/restaurants in New York City, and when I worked the night shift at the U.S. Post Office in mid-Manhattan, I'd often spend my 3:00 a.m. lunch hour at one or another of them, consuming what remain to this day the best brisket of beef sandwiches I've ever had. But I digress. The point is, I found just two Irish pubs in Miami-Dade County that serve corned beef and cabbage. One is the aforementioned JohnMartin's in Coral Gables; the Playwright Irish Pub & Restaurant in South Beach is the other. Not that the Irish partake of this dish very often; it's mostly consumed during Easter and St. Patrick's Day. Indeed Duffy's Tavern, Michael Collins Grill, and the various Flanigan's locations will be presenting it as a specialty come that latter holiday (which looms before us like a leering leprechaun), and whatever other Irish pubs exist will certainly be brewing up good times regardless of what grub they dish.

JohnMartin's corned beef and cabbage is a winner
Jonathan Postal
JohnMartin's corned beef and cabbage is a winner

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John Martin's Irish Pub

253 Miracle Mile
Coral Gables, FL 33134

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Coral Gables/South Miami

Details

JohnMartin's Restaurant & Irish Pub; 305-445-3777. Open for lunch and dinner Sunday through Tuesday 11:30 a.m. to midnight, Wednesday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., Sunday brunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The Playwright Irish Pub & Restaurant . 305-534-0667. Open for lunch and dinner Sunday through Wednesday noon to midnight, Thursday through Saturday noon to 2:00 a.m

JohnMartin's Restaurant & Irish Pub 253 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables. The Playwright Irish Pub & Restaurant . 1265 Washington Ave, Miami Beach

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The restaurant portion of JohnMartin's, with flowery curtains and carpeting and warm wooden china cabinets, resembles the dining quarters of a lovely country inn. Yet even though we made it clear our visit was for dinner, we were not escorted to this charming room but led instead into the scrungier pub area. Not scrungy in a bad way, mind you, just in a pub way -- dark wood all over the place, along with wrought iron, wainscoting, purposefully yellowed walls adorned with an abundance of photos, and old, tiny-white-tiled floors. A cozy little enclave with just a few tables and chairs sits quietly off to one side, and there are other quaint nooks and crannies here and about. JohnMartin's entered the Gables in 1989, but feels like it's been around quite a bit longer than that. Its muted hues provide a calm backdrop to the festive environment that ensues when the space fills up -- which happens every day come lunchtime.

The Playwright, which opened on the corner of Washington Avenue and Fourteenth Street in June 2000, likewise exudes an aged and authentic tavern ambiance. An oversize mahogany bar and cherry mahogany tables and chairs were shipped straight from Dublin, while the walls feature framed photos of famous Irish playwrights. Books and other artifacts are scattered about to reinforce this somewhat flimsy literary theme. An oak pulpit from a country parish is now home to the DJ and sound booth, which booms on weekend evenings (probably not the best time to come for corned beef and cabbage). A trio of sister Playwrights likewise pour pints in Connecticut, the businesses owned by three brothers from County Kilkenny, and a fourth partner from Cork.

Both pubs are class acts, but if you're heading out with corned beef and cabbage in mind, JohnMartin's is probably the place to go, though this depends on personal taste in matters of food size. What I mean is that the components of JohnMartin's plate are heftier than those at the Playwright, starting with thick-hewn slices of juicy meat with horseradish cream sauce snaking on top like a shiny white river. Cabbage is cut into broad wedges, steamed to a fully cooked but still-firm consistency, and halved new potatoes come alongside as well: boiled, oven-dried, and served with skins on, which is exactly how it's done in a typical Irish household (skins are then peeled with knife and fork at the table, a habit which greatly annoys the Brits, who prefer their spuds cooked skinless). The Irish should know something about how to prepare potatoes: In the last century the average daily consumption per citizen was six and a half pounds.

The Playwright's corned beef is thinly sliced with a machine, like the type you get in a deli sandwich. A white sauce was puddled beneath the meat, watered down by the drippings of peeled, medium-diced boiled potatoes and chopped cabbage. The smaller, wetter nature of these two ingredients might be the legitimate preference of some, but whether corned beef tastes better when hand-sliced into thicker strips is not open to debate; it is simply the case.

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