By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
There's nothing quite so satisfying as sitting peacefully by a river and composing poetry.
Can't really say.
Maybe that's not entirely true dining by a river can be just as rewarding, and even more so for those not as fortunate as I to be blessed with poetic prowess.
On the other hand, I suppose it also depends upon the sort of food you're eating. At certain riverfront restaurants, you'd probably rather be creating poems than having dinner. Even if you hate poetry.
Worse by a sliver.
The newest Finnegan's is on the Miami River, and a particularly unaesthetic stretch of it at that. If you were writing a poem about the vista, you'd have to come up with rhymes for construction cranes and big ugly brown office building (with window panes, but no gilding). Concrete dinner tables line up along the river's edge of a mammoth outdoor patio (standing capacity: 600) replete with a large bar and swimming pool in its center. This makes Finnegan's somewhat unique: There aren't many bars in town where you can get drunk and have two distinct bodies of water to accidentally stumble into.
I had a lot of time to take in the surroundings, because it took our waiter about fifteen minutes to bring menus and plastic cups of water. The appetizers would take quite a while longer; plates and silverware even longer than that. Napkins arrived about ten minutes after the silverware. You might say this is a very informal eatery, even if the table you were seated at wasn't located next to an outdoor shower like ours was. The cascading water didn't splash us, but a waiter (and I use that term loosely), while removing a dish from our table, tilted a beverage-laden tray in his hand and spilled a substantial amount of liquid onto the shoes and slacks of one of my guests. The hapless server didn't notice, and simply walked away (there was no manager working the floor). I was surprised my friend didn't react more strongly and really let him have it, but it turns out she was feeling a little woozy from gas fumes, plumes of which escaped a nasty motor boat nearby and filled the patio with noxious smoke. Then again, maybe she did complain the piped-in music was loud enough to make hearing difficult.
Finnegan's calls itself an Irish pub and sports bar, and the interior portion of the restaurant fits that bill. The bulk of the room is occupied by dining tables, two pool tables, and a bar boasting Guinness and a half-dozen other beers on tap. During lunchtime, light streams in through picture windows opening to the river, but at night the space takes on a darker pub ambiance, much of the illumination coming from a glowing fish tank and eight plasma TV screens.
We began with oysters on the half-shell, which didn't exhibit much in the way of bright, briny flavor. The Rockefeller rendition's creamed spinach and mozzarella cheese topping smothered whatever fresh appeal the oysters might have had. Funny, I never thought of melted mozzarella cheese on oysters, and neither did Antoine's in New Orleans, where the dish was invented.
Most other appetizers are fried, and can be sampled together on a combo plate containing calamari and a pair each of coconut shrimp, chicken strips, Buffalo wings, and jalapeño poppers. All but the squid tasted like pre-breaded frozen product dumped directly from box to deep fryer. Cups of tartar sauce, honey mustard, and cocktail sauce on the side were likely poured straight from gallon jugs.
There are a number of lobster treatments on the menu, but the only other seafood entrées are fish and chips, tilapia, and catch of the day, which on the nights we visited was swordfish. The moist square of fish was grilled to a proper doneness and was relatively fresh relative to the fish and chips, that is, a weighty wedge of cod that seemed as if it were manufactured by the same company that produced the starters (the "chips" were soggy fries). Yet lest you assume this isn't a classy joint, let me point out that entrées come with suggested wine pairings, each highlighted in red on the menu. Recommended for the fish and chips is Fetzer Valley Oaks Chardonnay, whose bouquet is strongly evocative of fruit, oak, and a very low wholesale price. Put down a pint of Guinness instead.
Finnegan's chef (I use that term loosely too) pours a pint of Guinness atop sirloin steak and marinates it overnight, which gives the meat's crust a pleasantly pungent, almost gamy flavor. Ours was a fat and fleshy lump of steak, but with a purplish raw center. "It's medium-rare!" our waiter barked before carrying the sirloin back to the kitchen. It was tasty the second time around. Skirt, strip, rib eye, and filet mignon complete the meat selections, which range from $21 to $24. Other entrées run from $15 to $23, and appetizers average around $9 apiece. That's a bit much for such low-end food, but prices are probably inflated because of the view; watching flabby bodies get rinsed under running water doesn't come cheap.
Main courses are accompanied by dinner rolls, sautéed vegetables, and choice of baked potato, French fries, or linguine Mornay (white cheese sauce). We requested the last, but it didn't arrive with the meal; our server eventually procured for us a plate of cold pasta with a little plastic cup of unseasoned tomato sauce on the side. The bread never came either, but one slice of pizza bearing a fat, Bobo-like crust was more than enough starch. I'm pretty sure the pizza crust isn't a premade product popped from a box like some other foods served here; I believe it comes packaged in a plastic bag.
A Reuben sandwich, which I ordered as take-out for lunch one day, was heftily filled with what can be described only as corned-beef-flavored luncheon meat. A tiny dab of sauerkraut centered each half, but not until I returned home did I notice the lack of any Thousand Island dressing. Dessert was a white chocolate caramel macadamia nut torte, one of those sugary, mass-produced confections whose individual flavors meld together into an indistinguishable goo of sweetness.
I didn't come to Finnegan's expecting Pascal's on Ponce. Rather I was hoping this spacious new waterfront location might inspire the owners to pump up the cheap bar-food quality of cuisine found at their other branches. It wasn't to be, yet Finnegan's isn't a total wash: The burger ain't bad, and weekday happy hour brings half-price drinks or a "bucket of beer" for six dollars. And, as you know, there's nothing quite so satisfying as sitting peacefully by a river and guzzling a bucket of beer.