Brickell Irish Pub gets crowds in the St. Patrick's Day spirit
What I remember most about the only New York St. Patrick's Day Parade I ever attended was that I'd never before witnessed so many people throwing up in public. For years, my dear friend Patrick Dunn had tried to persuade me to go to the event, and for years after my aforementioned attendance, I reminded him of my revulsion at having been surrounded by so many slobbering inebriated people. It's not an Irish thing — if they ever invent a Cinco de Mayo parade, I'll avoid that too. Yet while St. Paddy's Day is evidently not my favorite holiday, I love a good Irish pub; being around thousands of drunks can feel threatening, but camaraderie with just a few is fun. Which brings us to the nearly 7-month-old Brickell Irish Pub.
The cavernous dining room almost looks like a real pub that has been around a long time. For one thing, it is very dark, with dim yellow illumination coming from ring-shaped lamps suspended from the lofty ceiling. All sorts of Irish symbols, beer logos, brothership rings, and so forth hang on the walls alongside sizable panels of intricately carved wood and antique mirrors. Shelves perched way up high are filled with bulbous beer barrels or old leather-bound books; there's a second-floor terrace up there too. Tall-backed embroidered banquettes line the right side of the room, and an old-timey bar takes up the left; in between are tall, round bar tables and stools interspersed with longer rectangular bar tables for larger groups — plus a pool table and a slightly elevated stage where live bands perform certain evenings.
Great pains were apparently taken to make the place seem genuinely aged, including a worn-looking, poured concrete floor and dark wood tables that appear to have been whipped with chains to mimic the abuse of slamming down glass steins over many years. Yet classic and contemporary rock tunes racketing through the speakers and more than a dozen plasma TV sets encircling the room's perimeter sabotage any authenticity. Brickell Irish Pub is rather like a very dark sports bar. Many folks might prefer taking a seat on the brighter, quieter outdoor dining patio.
More than two dozen bottled beers come from all over the globe, another dozen from the States. The former are priced at $5.50, the latter at $4.50 — meaning a Corona costs the same as a Guinness, and a Coors costly as an Anchor Steam. A one-price-fits-all approach applies to nine of ten draft selections: $6.25 for pours of Bass, Blue Moon, and Newcastle Brown Ale, but a buck less for Bud Light. The Guinness Stout we ordered came correctly cool, not cold, and with creamy, finely grained foam; when taken from the tap, Guinness's characteristic malt flavor comes through in a much smoother fashion than the bottled stuff. There are also four beer cocktails, such as the Red Eye, with tomato juice, Tabasco, and Worcestershire; Snakebite, with apple cider; and Moleca Stout, with cachaça, fresh lime juice, sugar, mint leaves (so far so good) — and a shot of Guinness.
If plasma TV screens seem anachronistic in a quaintly antiquated pub, so too is seeing waiters pairing kilts with Nikes. Scottish men were the first to wear skirts, and the habit eventually spread to parts of Ireland — so Brickell Irish Pub does have a license to kilt. But we've skirted the issue long enough: The food here isn't especially praiseworthy.
The menu proffers about a half-dozen each of pub snacks, starters, salads, sandwiches, burgers, dinner entrées, and sides. What differentiates a "pub snack" from a "starter" is vague; the first category includes fish dip, Buffalo shrimp, mozzarella sticks, and potato skins; the other brings, among other things, chicken wings, chicken tenders, and beef sliders. Avoid the fish dip. It tasted mainly of the cream cheese, Tabasco, lemon, and dill base, with an off-flavor of smoked white fish maliciously lingering in the background.
Here, as elsewhere, the public is making a grab for sliders. Brickell's trio of miniburgers boasted a nice char-grilled flavor boosted by cheddar cheese, herbed aioli, and onions caramelized with Jameson. The same green aioli chaperoned a pan-seared Irish fish cake flaky with smoked salmon and cod; cod is culled for the fish and chips as well, and both dishes were codified as appetizers but served in either half or full portions. The smaller plate of fish and chips brought two dark, thick, crunchy antennae of cod coated in amber beer batter and rising from a pile of thin, frozen-type fries.
During a lunch visit, we sampled split pea soup and a lamb burger "filled with feta cheese." The soup delivered a base of admirable consistency (thin but with body), tepid flavor (mildly improved with salt), and a small dice of bland boiled ham. The burger, an eight-ouncer, featured feta that was actually atop rather than inside, as was a thin layer of lightly pickled red cabbage — punchy, well-paired partners for the assertive lamb flavor. The toasted challah bun was just right too, but the burger was dry, dry, dry. Our waiter never asked preference of doneness, perhaps out of concern for serving lamb that isn't thoroughly cooked. If that's the case, they should figure out a way to maintain at least a modicum of moisture. A pickle spear and side of fries accompany all ham/lamb burgers.
Two stalwarts of Irish pub fare — "sheppard's pie" and Irish stew — were solid if not sensational. The former came in a shallow bowl topped with gratinéed mashed potato/cheddar cheese and filled with a satisfying mix of ground lamb boasting contributions from tomatoes, carrots, onions, and roast garlic. Cubes of fork-tender, Guinness-braised short ribs that bobbed in the dark, thin Irish stew were luscious, but the gravy-ish base and sparse scattering of carrots, potatoes, and celery led a guest at our table to surmise that it might be Irish food as interpreted by a Hispanic Miami cook.
The only problem with a dessert called "McKrispy's bread pudding" is that it wasn't crisp enough — the interior all soft and the topping only less soft. Otherwise, it was served warm, with an unheralded scoop of vanilla ice cream, an apt shot of cinnamon, and an abundance of Jameson-soaked raisins.
Service here is amateurish, but prices are forgiving: all pub snacks and starters under $10, all main courses less than $20. I probably won't make Brickell Irish Pub a regular stopover for dinner, but if my friend Pat were still alive, I'd come here with him, hoist a few Guinness Stouts, and gripe once more about that preposterous St. Patrick's Day parade.
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