Having never been to Ireland, I cannot attest to the verisimilitude of the decor inside The Irishman Pub & Eatery, the homage to the Auld Sod on Main Street in Williamsville. But it definitely tries. There's a forest of dark wood accenting the interior, tile floors, a tin ceiling - I expect it can get noisy when full - and lots of Irish tchotchkes. There are two televisions over the bar.
I almost wished it was gray and drizzling so I could park at the bar with a pint while the fireplace warmed my back.
But it was a sunny August day and the patio was nearly full, so we settled into a table and opened our menus. The Irish theme comes through on every page, even to decidedly non-Irish food. (Blarney Nachos, housemade potato chips with cheese sauce laced with black-and-tan beer, jalapenos and homemade salsa, are $8.45; wings with Guinness barbecue sauce are $8.95.)
There's soups, salads, sandwiches and pizzas, a bevy of burgers and regular entrees like barbecued ribs ($15.95) and chicken ($14.95) plus "traditional" Irish food like shepherd's pie ($13.95) and fish and chips ($11.95).
There are lots of items you would see on other menus, with Irish inflections: Irish quesadilla ($7.95), mussels steamed in Guinness ($11.95) and an eyebrow-raising Irish-Italian fusion entree called Irish Ziti, with ground lamb, grilled chicken and banger sausages in tomato-sauced pasta ($18.95).
We chose a Margarita Pizza ($8.95), an Irish Cobb Salad ($12.95), a Grilled Vegetable Salad ($9.79) and a Chicken Pretzel Sandwich ($9.45). Cat wanted the Pistachio Pork Medallions for her entree ($18.95), and I made an Irish pick, the shepherd's pie.
When the pizza arrived, on thin dough that was more cracker than bread, I was reminded that "pizza" has been redefined on many Western New York menus.
The flatbread crust carried lots of cheese, tomato sauce and shredded fresh basil. I ate my share despite my nomenclature grumbling.
The Cobb was Irish by virtue of Irish bacon, the menu said. There was a hamlike meat there, for sure, and no skimping on other ingredients like warm grilled chicken breast, sliced avocado, crumbled blue cheese and diced tomatoes served on a bed of greens fortified by radicchio and arugula. It was substantial enough for a dinner-caliber meal.
The grilled vegetable salad offered a lot of red bell pepper strips and sliced zucchini and yellow squash, but little evidence that those vegetables had met fire.
The vegetables were certainly fresh, but even with dressed greens and blue cheese, it could have used a smoky boost.
The chicken sandwich was a grilled breast served on a soft, slightly sweet pretzel roll. The meat was still moist and the zing of mustard and Havarti cheese made for a pleasant chomp. The fresh-cut "Irish fries" were crispy, salty and doomed.
To my surprise, my shepherd's pie arrived in a cast-iron skillet. The pan held a lamb stew that had been topped with mashed potatoes, then cheese, which had melted and run like lava but not browned.
The stew's chunks of lamb were tender, but I wasn't a fan of the gravy. Perhaps it was the beer in it, or the meat-to-gravy ratio being lower than I prefer. You need a lot of gravy to cover a skillet. I left half of the potatoes and gravy behind, primarily for space constraints. I decided I could not appreciate the dish fully unless I was, say, a football team.
Cat's pistachio-crusted pork was coveted by tablemates as soon as it arrived, but fortunately, Cat got a knife, deterring encroachers. Two pieces of tender pork were rolled in a nutty coating and fried to a crisp. Not dried out, they got along well with the "Irish mustard beurre blanc" covering them.
The Colcannon potatoes with the pork were described as having sausage in them. We didn't detect any, but they were fine otherwise. The vegetable medley consisted of julienned zucchini, red bell peppers and yellow squash, not distinctively seasoned but fresh and toothsome, not mushy.
Altogether, The Irishman served up competent comfort food with a dash of Ireland - or close enough for Williamsville, anyway.
The Irishman Pub & Eatery
Busy restaurant shows its Irish inspiration across hearty menu
WHERE: 5601 Main St., Williamsville (626-2670)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers and salads, $4.95-$13.95; sandwiches, $7.95-$11.95; entrees, $11.95-$23.95.
PARKING: In the lot.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.