At O'Connell's, the curtains are plaid, the beers are Guinness Stout and Harp, and the Wednesday night special is fish. Lest you take this as a serious Irish eatery, take note that the music is popular American and the pizza is better than anything made with potatoes.
There's even a popcorn wagon in the middle of the dining room.
If you're more interested in drinking than dining, O'Connell's holds a rough-edged charm. The cavernous restaurant is at once cozy and crowded, the large space divided by railings, punctuated by a bar to one side, and warmed with antique-looking furnishings, dark wood and earthy colors. There's even a dart board in the rear. And in the spirit of spring, the front patio offers alfresco seating beneath a canopy -- a pleasant experience if the wind isn't blowing and nearby construction has ceased for the day, neither of which was the case at a recent lunch.
The restaurant is set for gathering, conversing, snacking. Dining would be an overstatement.
The food is simple and basically predictable, occasionally delving into the adventurous (pan-fried coho salmon almondine in a pub?). If variety is what you want, the luncheon menu touts substantial entrees -- sirloin steak, scallops, two veal dishes -- in addition to an assortment of salads, sandwiches and a handful of daily specials.
After 3 p.m., the menu becomes a table placard and a roll call of culinary cliches: starters such as onion soup, potato skins and nachos, plus a few Irish selections, including corned beef and fish and chips. But a larger selection isn't necessarily better eating, as a recent lunch revealed. A daily special of crab and carrot bisque sounded appealing, but O'Connell's version was a pallid, thinnish broth with stringy bits of crab and uneven chunks of vegetable. It was not only clumsy, but oversalted. An order of "southern fried chicken" -- its skin limp and underseasoned -- would have been evicted from any self-respecting Southerner's kitchen. Surprisingly, the veal marsala was adequate, the surprise being that the meat tasted more like pork than veal.
Food wasn't the only problem at lunch. Patio service was slow and inefficient, and getting the lone waiter's attention was difficult.
Evenings find O'Connell's less busy, which is reflected in the friendlier service and occasionally on the plate as well. Appetizers include some respectably spicy Buffalo chicken wings, decent onion rings, and the worst potato skins I've ever had: five tasteless shells glopped with Day-Glo orange cheese and sprinkled with commercial bacon bits.
Given the mixed introduction, the question is not what's good, but what's unobjectionable. I'd place a number of meals in that category, including the tepid corned beef sandwich, the fried fish platter, a decent breast of tarragon-redolent chicken, and the chili, which strongly resembled the commercial stuff but was nonetheless spicy and meaty. Pizza, too, is just average.
So why the bustling lunch business? As one of the few dining spots in the neighborhood, O'Connell's has little but a brown bag lunch to compete with. But if it were up to me, I'd opt for the latter.