Capital Pub

The Liffey, new St. Paul sister to the Local, is old and older, in the best ways

The final transformation of this little bit of St. Paul from artless to ageless will be complete next spring, when a planned two-story parking garage goes in behind the Holiday Inn, allowing the construction of a rooftop deck that will face Seventh Street. "It'll be 2,000 square feet with planters and its own little bar," explains Folliard. "You'll be able to look up at the Cathedral, or up at the capitol, depending on where you get your inspiration."

As is usual at Kieran Folliard properties, the menu at the Liffey is a ridiculously lengthy, 60-plus item mix of traditional Irish comfort foods (shepherd's pies, curry chips, corned beef), traditional American sports bar (wings, calamari, chicken Caesar salads), and traditional Minnesota Hey, We're Eating Out! (spinach and artichoke dip, mandarin chicken salad, walleye). I, for one, have given up on trying to critique the breadth and length of these Liffey/Local menus. If you like the food at Kieran's or the Local, you'll like the food at the Liffey.

If you've never been to either, I'll assume you were born after this date in 1982, and so settle in, youngsters, and I'll learn you a little something about your hometown. Whenever you see a lot of perfectly poured Guinness in a lot of tulip-shaped traditional glasses, stick to the homiest, simplest Irish dishes and you'll be okay all the night.

A pint and a portal: The Liffey is a calming Irish oasis in the middle of Hecticville
Bill Kelley
A pint and a portal: The Liffey is a calming Irish oasis in the middle of Hecticville

In that vein, one of the best things at the Liffey is that humblest of Dublin street foods, the curry chip ($4.99), a groaning platter of cute, tender little fries made from boiling potatoes arranged around a dipping bowl of creamy curry. Anyone who's been broke in the green isles west of the Continent should have a soft spot in their hearts for this dish. Pair it with a pint and you've got the quintessential tool for surviving, say, a bad economy, a bad breakup, and bad air quality for oh, a decade or two.

The appetizer potato pancakes ($8.99) are interesting. Order them and you get three fried mashed-potato pancakes about the size of a CD and an inch high, topped with a bunch of sour cream, crumbled good-quality smoked salmon, and applesauce. It's pretty good, but more importantly, if you can eat a couple pounds of fried mashed potatoes, and then move into an entrée, my advice is to quit your day job and go into the lucrative field of competitive eating, because you have gifts, darling, God-given gifts.

A God-given gift to the Father's Day brunch quandary is surely the Liffey's Sunday brunch. From 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. you can get a remarkably enormous breakfast of, say, two eggs, a thick frizzled slice of Irish bacon, bangers (which are little mild sausages), slices of both black and white pudding (which are slices of pan-fried sausage made with barley), a bowl of beans, toast, a pile of creamy hash browns, and grilled tomatoes ($9.99). Smaller breakfasts start at $4.49. Skip the floury biscuits and gravy.

If all that meat is not enough to impress Dad, Sunday brunches also host a sessiún, a Gaelic music session, where traditional musicians can show up and play. "We've had as many as 22 musicians at once, when we do it at Kieran's," says Folliard. The tradition works such that no one is amplified, no one is told what to do, and everyone sets up wherever they can and plays what they like. And if you want you can even dance a jig. Make your Father's Day reservations now, I say. And while I'm saying, I'll say that if I had one wish for the Liffey it would be that they culled some of the bar food from their menu (who goes to an Irish pub for a teriyaki chicken burger?) and put the Irish breakfast on all day.

Some of the other Liffey-given gifts worth checking out include fish and chips ($9.99) as crisp as the wind off Donegal, in vast portions; and a corned-beef and cabbage plate ($11.99) on which tender, house-made corned beef offers the rich scent of cloves and spice, and glows dark crimson. If I've had better corned beef in Minnesota, I don't remember it. The pork and sausage shepherd's pie ($9.99) goes into the hall of fame too. Here you get a whole casserole dish of pork stew in an herbal, tomato-touched gravy, which soaks up into the crown of butter-crumbed mashed potatoes that tops it, and is great, in the simplest, rainy winter way.

And if the goodness of a simple rainy winter dish seems an odd thing to contemplate as we barrel into a Midwestern summer, consider Kieran Folliard's words: "The true essence of an Irish pub is, you can have a little sense of what's going on in the greater world, but have a little peace in it by going off to a little nook or cranny off to the side to have a chat with someone or read a newspaper. Whenever I go home to Dublin, the first thing I do is go to the Stag's Head, get my first pint in Dublin, order whatever the special of the day is, get the Irish Times and read it cover to cover. At that moment, I'm the happiest guy in Dublin."

And that, my darlings, is the magic of the Liffey, where you can enjoy all the slow-life glory of hand-carved wood and slow-settling beer, and the only people who come equipped with glass screens are the last people who should.

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