Luck of the Irish (and the rest us)

Dan Kelly’s Pub
212 S. 7th St.

What’s in a name?

Well, Shakespeare knows best, but when the new owner of downtown’s former Dan Kelly’s Bar & Grill modified the title to Dan Kelly’s Pub, he effected more than a new sign with a shamrock on the door. True to the hospitality gene embedded, it seems, in every Irishman, Matty O’Reilly (who also owns the Republic sites, among others) replaced unremarkable bar food with a true Irish menu. Wisely, he also honored the existing expansive wood bar, capacious wooden booths, and stained-glass sparkles while ripping out the blaring beer signs and many of the TV screens.

Want a beer? Of course the barkeep obliges, leading off with Guinness, the mother’s milk of the Emerald Isle. Instead, we dipped into the river of Irish whiskey flowing free, sharing mini-pours from the three dozen-strong list: the straight-ahead Powers, deeper Bushmill’s, elegant Jameson and (our favorite) the almost-winey Tullamore Dew.

Dan’s menu salutes the classic comfort food of Granny’s day, lightened a bit for caring palates. Start with a cheese pairing of Cashel blue and Cahill Porter cheddar with your tipple, or a generous salad, mined with matchsticks of the mellow cheese and sweet apple accents, tossed with bland, do-nothing boiled potatoes on greens moistened with a modest cider vinaigrette.

Or investigate that Irish staple called boxty — here, paired with a rich and rustic smoked salmon slice to dabble in crème fraiche or modest mint-fennel sauce. The boxty itself — potato pancakes — fell short of the mark, presenting an unsubstantial, over-smooth texture and little chumminess with the griddle rather than the divine combo of grated and mashed potato within a crispy, fried coating.

Entrees ($8–$15) celebrate hearty, homey dishes. Colcannon — originally a hard-times  mash-up of potatoes, onions and cabbage — has been improved as a casserole that also spotlights Brussels sprouts and carrots and calls on trendy kale as its prime green, all massaged with a light dill-butter sauce. The kitchen’s fish and chips were half-lovely: a fairy-light, grease-free beer batter clasping pearly, line-caught cod, but partnered with run-of-the-fryer chips, enlivened (they needed it) with a sprightly house-made tartar sauce and pleasant curry ketchup.

Beef — corned from Peterson Farms’ brisket — proved sweet and juicy, just the ticket for a winter’s night. It’s accented, honoring tradition, by cabbage and lovely sweet roasted onions, with a dusting of caraway seeds flavoring the light cooking liquor. The take on Granny’s Irish stew features sturdy lamb leg chunks from Star Thrower’s flock, in a no-gimmicks rendition including carrots, onions and fennel. Lots of burgers available, too.

Well, dessert. Last time I kissed a leprechaun, as a reward he promised me sticky toffee pudding any time I liked (which is three times a day). But it wasn’t on the menu. Instead, the highlight is Karen O’Reilly’s warm, tender, butter-laced coffee cake, loaded with its own nicely sticky coating, served with a tiny dollop of Porter whipped cream (nicely unsweetened) and a spoon of Izzy’s Irish Moxie ice cream ($6). House-made Irish Cream for the ladies, too.