Where does one turn for solace after sushi or friendship after frittatas? To the neighborhood bars and eateries, no doubt, where camaraderie generally draws more attention than anything on the menu save a decent draft.
Consider Ireland's Own, for instance.
You'd be hard pressed to find a more authentic watering hole than this Alexandria tavern, where the music is always Irish -- sometimes annoyingly so, especially when you've just endured your fifth melancholy ballad over a crackling speaker -- and the waitresses are likely to greet you with an Irish brogue. Is this for real? you wonder aloud. "Aye, we're off the boat," confirms one lass, nodding in the direction of her colleagues.
Even on a sunny weekend afternoon, the restaurant's cavernous dark dining room (brightened somewhat by a few colorful murals of the Irish countryside) attracts a small crowd, though patio service seems the more enticing alternative. The waitresses must prefer the outdoors as well, for staff was efficient and numerous there -- one evening we were treated to no fewer than three servers.
As might be expected, this restaurant offers stews, lamb and fish dishes and a variety of pub-style food -- burgers and sandwiches of corned beef, roast beef, ham and turkey, all of which are served with cole slaw and praties (sliced potatoes fried in their skins.)
Ireland's Own makes its own soups, some of which are quite good. (If it's offered, try the chicken noodle.) Potato and leek could have used more seasoning but was otherwise delicious and creamy. Just the opposite was true of the French onion soup -- a weak, salty version.
There are better salad bars to be seen in fast food chains than the one here; the selection was very ordinary, with few surprises save some decent hors d'oeuvre-size meatballs. One could order a la carte the St. Stephen's salad, a hefty portion of thin ham and turkey slices mixed with lots of fresh vegetables -- mushrooms, peppers and red tomatoes -- and tossed with a sweetish poppy seed dressing with a honey-mustard tang.
Very basic but very good was a big platter of cabbage and beef. The beef was plentiful and very lean, the vegetables cooked to remain somewhat firm. Lamb stew was a hearty concoction of full-flavored meat and cooked carrots and celery.
Fish entrees were less appealing. The traditional fish and chips is available, but we opted for roscommon (flounder stuffed with crab meat). It was a bit on the fishy side, but the seafood sauce was good, supported by crunchy cubes of water chestnuts. Steer clear of those bready crab cakes, which were so salty and crusty as to render them unpalatable.
Lamb chops is the most expensive entree on the menu ($14.95) and possibly the most disappointing. Although they were particularly flavorful, juicy and cooked to perfection, by the time I cut the fat away, there were but three or four bites to savor. And a medicinal-tasting mint jelly did little to help. (A melange of appropriately undercooked carrots and stewed tomatoes accompanied this meal and did more to fill us up.)
Better to skip dessert and end the meal with an Irish coffee or a Guinness and an evening of live Irish entertainment, served up nightly from the stage in the main dining room. Barbara Rothschild and Daniel Zwerdling are on vacation.