Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Chicago Dining World Tour: Hearty Grub at a Local Irish Pub

The Curragh
8266 Lincoln Ave., Skokie

What I ate: Bangers & Mash, Guinness Cheese Soup, Harp beer

It's been 13 years since my one and only trip to Ireland and I still recall it quite fondly.

Other than having Shepherd's Pie at a pub in Carlow called Teach Dolmain--I only know the name because I have pictures--I don't specifically recall what I ate...or where.

But I know I visited several pubs, including on a Literary Pub Crawl in Dublin. Although I never acclimated--nor have since--to the taste of Guinness (despite loving the brand & marketing), I enjoyed the ambiance of genuine Irish pubs.

Given Chicago's huge Irish population, I imagine there are a good number of fairly traditional pubs dotting the landscape, but I've never really looked for any. I've been to Fado, which is a big one downtown and part of a national chain.

I had noticed another, the Moher Public House, in the Edgebrook neighborhood, and thought I might try it as the Irish entry on my Chicago Dining World Tour. But the other night, the Curragh in Skokie proved a rather opportune place to meet my friend Ken.

He had already eaten, but I was looking for a full dinner, so I was glad to note that the Curragh--to which I hadn't yet been, despite it being in Skokie for a number of years--had a rather robust menu including Irish favorites and several types of burgers.

It seemed like a perfect night to eat outside on the patio, but though it looked like there was room despite several occupied tables, we were told a large party was on its way and we couldn't be accommodated al fresco.

So we stayed inside, which even with an Irish flag and several Guinness signs seemed to have a somewhat Americanized Irish feel. I can't really explain exactly what I mean, but let's just say I didn't feel like I was back in Dublin or Carlow or Kilkenny.

But it was pleasant enough, and while not feeling exploratory enough to again try a Guinness--or even a black 'n tan--I did order myself a pint of Harp, while Ken got a Kaliber.

Fortunately, the stout taste of Guinness did not overly pervade my Guinness Cheese Soup, which the menu describes as Irish sausage, roasted peppers and caramelized onions in Wisconsin cheddar, spiked with Guinness.

It was rather good, as was, reportedly, the Beef Vegetable Soup that Ken ordered as his only food item.

While a burger likely held greater appeal, I felt obliged to try more traditional Irish fare, and as I recalled having Shepherd's Pie once, 13 years ago, I opted here for Bangers & Mash (Irish sausages with mashed potatoes and beef gravy).

I'm glad I ordered Bangers & Mash, once, but doubt I ever will again, as I assume the Curragh's version was a pretty solid representation of a dish that filled me much more than it thrilled me.

I've never been big on getting gravy atop my mashed potatoes, and the sausages were akin to breakfast sausage links, but a touch softer. I ate it all, but can't say I loved it.

No offense to an otherwise wonderful culture, but I'd have to say that for the most part--albeit with limited exposure--Irish cuisine has never quite left me in clover.

The Curragh had some desserts, including a couple that sounded interesting--Homemade Rum & Raisin
Bread Pudding and Profiteroles (choux pastry stuffed with whipped cream and served with chocolate sauce). I've had the latter elsewhere, and especially as its origins are French not Irish, Ken and I resisted the indulgence, opting instead to satisfy our sweet teeth with frozen yogurt at Red Mango.

It was certainly nice to be reminded of Ireland, and I definitely wouldn't mind returning to the Curragh, but when I do, I think I'll order a Cajun Bacon Burger.

Even if it doesn't sound all that authentically Irish.

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