Sunday, March 14, 2010

McNamara’s Irish Pub

Nashville Restaurants and Food
McNamara’s Irish Pub
2740 Old Lebanon Road

Ah, some favorite Irish bar moments: A toasty feeling on a blustery day; noticing upside down Paddy’s Whiskey ready for a quick pour; watching a pint of Guinness take a little rest as it cascades on the way to a creamy head. McNamara’s does a nice job of creating these moments. The near instantaneous popularity of the place seems to attest to agreement amongst the good people of Donelson.

The place is the creation of Sean McNamara, a well known name in Celtic music circles. He’s been singing Irish music for years in bars all over Nashville. Now he’s ready to make his own home and be assured, music is a big part of that endeavor. He plays Thursday through Sunday evenings with his band Nosey Flynn on a stage in the main room, and usually to a packed house.

The rest of the time you can find Sean and his family bustling around the place making sure things are in place for business. He’ll take time to say hello and have a chat, and then it’s back to check on the kitchen or to welcome new guests.

The building works remarkably well in the Irish pub mode. It’s been home to a couple of restaurants and even a funeral home at one time. Now the wood floors, warren of rooms, and dark red paint do it justice as an Irish joint. Service is coming along to match. We found table wait staff to be quick and efficient, if not always attentive. It’s perfectly understandable given the packed room on a Saturday night. We just wish the bar staff we witnessed had been more experienced. It seems to us that the foundation of a great Irish bar is highly personable and agile bartenders. They haven’t been open very long, and the owners seem to understand all of this, so we would expect quick improvement in this department.

They pride themselves on perhaps the best array of Irish whiskey in the Nashville area. It’s great to see Paddy’s, Powers, Middleton, Jameson 18-Year, and Bushmills Black Bush sitting proudly above the bar. Get ready for some sticker shock though, as the warm glow recedes. We found $8 for a small shot of Paddy’s to be a little excessive, considering you can get an entire bottle of the stuff for $25. We never ventured to the high grade brands, for fear of having to remortgage the house to pay the tab. They serve Guinness in normal pints and imperial pints (about 4 ounces more). The imperial will set you back $5.75, which is a bit more reasonable. Some of the staff are still learning to pour the stuff, but they take a little time and seem to use the two pour method preferred to set up a creamy head and nice body.

The crispy, meaty crunch of a scotch egg goes great with beer and whiskey. McNamara’s version sports a good fry and full porky flavor. The kettle chips are thick and reasonably crisp, maybe a bit chewy here and there. We found the curry powder to be an interesting (and a very United Kingdom) twist, although laid on a bit thick. Fried mushrooms were standard fare and the horseradish sauce a thoughtful, if probably store bought, companion.

You can probably start a fist fight in Ireland over sausages. Some folks have a fit if you call them Bangers, which is an English description used because of the meaty tendency to explode if the links have too much water in them. Other folks in Ireland don’t seem to mind at all about the name, as long as the consistency is correct. Bangers have more breadcrumb filler than the traditional American sausage. This gives them a fine, smooth texture. McNamara’s features a decent version, with a light char and moist consistency. They’re served up in a very clinical and un pub-like way: completely separated on the plate from the meager mound of mashed potatoes.

The shepherd’s pie is similar comfort food: the mashed spuds and cheese provide a hearty blanket for ground beef, peas and carrots. We notice plenty of pink in that ground beef. I usually order a hamburger medium-rare so it didn’t bother me; others may be a bit alarmed. It’s a filling dish, tame and perhaps light on seasoning. Mac and cheese missed on all points. It’s a bowl of mediocre noodles served with some Velveeta-like cheese sauce on top. Folks at the table enjoyed the pureed potato soup.

On a lunch visit our kind waitress, Rose, took the Veggie Eater’s inquires about safe things to eat quite seriously, to the point of explaining that meat items were fried in the oil. They do have several vegetarian options, including the soups and a number of sides.

Veggie Eater: To say that Irish pub fare is not terribly veggie friendly is an understatement. However, given my love of Irish beer (both Guinness and lesser known cousin, Smithwicks), I have learned to adapt to the pub menu. Generally speaking, this limits me to fried food: potatoes minus the obligatory bacon, or my favorite veggie substitution, a Rueben, minus the corned beef. Meat Eater forbade me to have my Rueben, stating it is not fair to judge a restaurant on a menu item missing its most essential ingredient. So with that in mind, I accommodated my veggie ways with other items on our visits. I’m really not much of a fried food fan, and after sharing some of the apps with friends, thought a salad would fit the bill. I must hand it to McNamara’s for their absolute truthfulness in disclosure during our visits. When asked if the dressings were homemade, they indicated they were not. When asked which was the best of the not homemade dressing, they encouraged me to try the raspberry vinaigrette. I paired this with the spinach salad. Lots of fresh spinach, topped with almonds, mandarin oranges, and sweet onions. The dressing tasted corn syrupy and the salad, although fresh, was not very interesting.

On the next visit I opted for the Celtic Veggie Plate. Our server on this visit, Rose, was kind enough to verify if my side choices were veggie friendly and steer me in the appropriate direction. With my choices fully vetted, I forged ahead with sweet potato fries, potato medley, broccoli cheese casserole, and corn casserole. The sweet potato fries were standard; skinny and well fried; perhaps a dusting of the curry on this could have made them more interesting. The potato medley was very good. Four varieties of potatoes (sweet, purple, and two yellow fleshed varieties) roasted and well seasoned with salt and pepper; very simple, but very satisfying. The broccoli cheese casserole was the potluck variety and the broccoli appeared to be frozen. It was cooked to the point of being mushy and devoid of color, with a cheese sauce; not pretty to look at, not spectacular, but still edible. The corn casserole was better: plump whole kernels baked with a creamy sauce. Will I come again for the food? Probably not. Will I gladly go again for Guinness, ambience, music, and friends and nosh along the way- absolutely.

Meat Eater: Dinner and drinks with good friends is always a treat, and having the comfortable atmosphere to do that is welcome. I think overall the McNamara family has a good thing going here.

We’ll be back for St. Patty’s Day, although unless we hit a pot of gold on Lebanon Pike I don’t think we’ll partake in the whiskey. We paid a rather astounding $90 with tax and tip for two of us on one visit. Now granted we were there for several hours, drank a bunch and stuffed ourselves full. The food prices are actually fairly reasonable ($6-$8 for appetizers, $8-$12 for sandwiches and $11-$18 for entrees.) A return visit provided two entrees and two pints of Guinness for $39 with tax and tip.

Sean will be performing starting at 10 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day and then back for an evening set. He’ll have other musicians throughout the day. It will be a limited menu and as Sean was quick to point out: not a drop of green beer anywhere in his joint.
McNamara's Irish Pub and Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Lesley said...

It's a real pet peeve of mine to see limited veggie items on "Irish" pub menus. There's plenty of authentic Irish food that's vegetarian, including potato soup because many Irish people ate meat maybe once a week. Cabbage, potato and cheese dishes would be simple and easy to include on a menu. The problem is not many vegetarians even bother any more. :)

ps--mmm...Irish cheese. Love it.

EdKing said...

It came as a sort of shock to me that you folks do good reviews AND bad reviews! In past threads, I'd usually seen a reason or two to visit...but not McNamara's. It appears nothing about the food impressed you and, for an Irish pub, that's too bad. I guess the ONLY PLACE I can find a great Rueben sandwich (from what I've heard) is Rae's downtown. I have never been. I can NEVER FIND A PARKING SPOT!!

Eric and Katie said...

lesley: I think the potato soup might be veggie friendly...I forgot exactly what they told us for that. Ed: I think McNamara's works really well as a bar/neighborhood gathering spot. The food is fine, just nothing standing out as special. And we'll have more to say about Raes in a couple of weeks.

Veggie Eater said...

Your comment made me smile; had this same discussion with my mother (chef) about 2 weeks ago in response to my visit here. Visited Ireland about 10 years ago and found a wonderful Irish food Renaissance; lots of fresh greens and cold weather veggies, great cheese, bread, etc. I lamented to mom that American pub fare doesn't capture the veggie depth. Generally, with American Irish pub far, it's all about fried and not normally prepared with great care. FYI, the potato soup is veggie friendly here. I've not had an opportunity to eat it yet, but may pair it with my first Guinness on St. Patty's day.

We try to be honest in our reviews and generally try to find the proverbially glass half full (pardon the pun) this case, the pub food was standard, but the ambience is still cozy and enjoyable with friends.

amy Begins said...

Definitely not veggie friendly, but the beef and biscuits are outstanding at McNamara's. It'd be worth another visit, and might change your opinion on the food.

Love the blog!!

Eric and Katie said...

Thanks for reading Amy...we have heard good things about the steak and biscuits and the fish. For the most part we were hitting up the more Irish stuff on the menu.

Anonymous said...

Can't recommend the place. Food is mediocre and overpriced, and not worth waiting over an hour for.

Skip the appetizers. A basket of chips amounted to a vending-machine size clump of potato chips reheated in weird-tasting oil.

Food, when it finally comes out, can come out in odd spurts - so some of your party will either have to go ahead and eat or let their food get cold. Some servers are green and/or inattentive, and need to learn not to make excuses for the kitchen.

Music is pretty good but pints are overpriced. You will not likely get into the listening room unless you know the right people.

The kitchen positively crashes during a rush, so be prepared to wait a long time for food, or eat elsewhere and end up here for a pint and some music if you're lucky enough to get into the listening room.

Not really a kid-friendly place unless you can keep the kids quiet with the few crackers on the table during the long wait for food. (And don't feed 'em cokes until you're sure the food is about to arrive. You'll be scraping them off the ceiling after a hungry hour.) Caution: five bucks for PBJ!

Anonymous said...

The fish & chips are fairly decent. The corned beef bites are cooked to the point of no return. The imperial pint, or the 20 oz pint, is a lot higher than most other similar establishments in Nashville. Unfortunately, most of the staff doesn’t know the different between the 16 or 20 oz pints. You’ll have to keep tabs on your check. No happy hour, and no Sunday pint specials either. I live 4 miles down the road, and unfortunately I will not be a frequent guest as long as the prices continue to stay so high. I really hope they adjust the prices, I’m sure the sticker shock will eventually keep people away.

Anonymous said...

McNamaras is exactly what Donelson needed - the food is wonderful, the staff so friendly - definatley a place 'were everyone knows your name! Keep up the wonderful work and love to hear the Irish accents-makes the place even more authentic!

Chuck R said...

I write this review after having visited this establishment 5 times. I truly hoped this venue would provide a new vision of Irish Pub atmosphere in the Nashville area, but I must say it falls far from its mark. McNamara’s Irish Pub needs to find its niche. You can’t be all things to all people, so either be a pub or be a restaurant!

The establishment is nice inside and out. Much detail was taken to provide the backdrop for enjoyable dining and live music performances. Your first impression after waiting in the long lines to get in is usually a good one and until the music starts that is all this place has going. The wait staff is slow and green, with little focus on actual service. Granted most nights the wait staff must dodge small children running around unchecked and your usual busy bar environment, but that is what they do for a living.

An average drink order time to the table of 22 minutes on any given night is too long! Not to mention the average 45 minute wait on appetizers or dinner, often served back to back. On every visit the kitchen was slow and the food was either cool or the order was wrong. The menu is a joke as usually a third of it is sold out, especially desserts. These problems suggest that as a pub or restraint the place is failing.

Now the BIG issue. The drink menu is always void of major beers or liquor. On 3 of 5 visits, the bar did not have a beer in stock I will drink and there are 4 beers on the menu I like. I am not a Guinness drinker so perhaps that is the problem. The last time I took my family in we ended up drinking not so sweet ‘sweet tea’ that was warm and ate cold food over an hour after we ordered on a Sunday night with only half the dining area full.

I love the place, but it offers nothing after the appeal to the eyes and ears. Suggestions? Sure find a niche.

1. Be a pub and get the drinks to the table fast and right and seldom run out of alcohol stock. Be bawdy and arrange the tables to face the music so camaraderie and conversation flow. Set a time of night when children are only welcome in the dining areas away from the stage. Most importantly DO NOT manage, bounce, direct or scold from the mic, your customers don’t want to be involved in drama they are here to have a good time. Get the attention of your manager and have him handle problems.


2. Be a restaurant and focus on better quality hot food to the table in 30 minutes or less. Make your servers pay closer attention to the tables and give them the room to maneuver so they can serve. Forget your people wanting a pub style good time because you are not providing it. Those patrons can go upstairs to be rowdy or hover around the bar. Channel your clientele toward what they are looking for and focus on what you do best.

Over all there is a lot of opportunity for McNamara’s Irish Pub. In a few months if they are still there, we will see if they have found their groove but for now it ranks 2 on a 1-5 scale with 5 being the highest. Good Luck McNamara’s