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.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Nashville Restaurants and Food