Morrissey's Irish Pub mixes luck and hard work
Morrissey's Belfast burger with wee tots at "the first Irish pub in Uptown." Don't forget to look at the rest of the incredible pictures of Morrissey's pub grub...
Benjamin Carter Grimes
The Twin Cities has its fair share of seemingly cursed restaurant real estate. There was the whole debacle with Jack's/Java Jack's/Jack's Cafe in East Harriet; the little Raymond Avenue storefront where Chet's Taverna, Jay's Cafe, and Caribe Bistro all struggled (thankfully Foxy Falafel is thriving there now); and then there's the notoriously expensive Calhoun Square space that was most recently (and rather abruptly) vacated by Primebar.
But none of these spots has as strange a history as the storefront near the corner of West Lake Street and Colfax in Uptown, where each new restaurant tenant was even more wildly different from the last. It's been home to a casual Mexican eatery; a short-lived Jamaican and soul-food fusion joint called the Favor Cafe, which garnered some not-so-favorable reviews; a confounding Miami-themed restaurant (what does that even mean?); and, until a few months ago, it was one of the few authentic Brazilian restaurants in the Twin Cities. For whatever reason, none of these concepts seemed to stick, but now there's a quartet of experienced restaurant-industry types who, with a little luck of the Irish, are out to change the fate of this space.
Well, luck and some tried-and-true management methods. One of Morrissey's Irish Pub's four owners is Paul Crilly, who spent time working at other well-known Minneapolis Irish bars, including Kieran's and O'Donovan's. Armed with the knowledge of what works and what doesn't, he made it his goal to open the "first Irish pub in Uptown."
As a drinking establishment, Morrissey's seems to be pulling in the exact crowd you'd expect: mostly young but not tragically hip, a sprinkling of middle-aged guys watching soccer games on the flat-screen TVs above the bar, and one or two tables of happy-hour hoppers taking down $4 beers and rail drinks, occasionally craning around to see the trio playing folksy acoustic music in the corner of the dining room. The space is airy and open but still dark, like a pub should be, and was never so busy that we couldn't immediately find a table, which is always a huge plus when looking for somewhere to get after-work drinks in Uptown.
According to one server, Morrissey's is developing some specialty cocktails, but for now there's only a whiskey list — which is just fine at an Irish pub — offering most of the standard Irish single malts like Bushmills and Tullamore Dew, as well as the ever-popular blends such as Jameson and our local whiskey made good, 2 Gingers. A handful of Irish brews are also on tap (Smithwick's, Guinness, and Harp), but since local patrons have developed a thirst for soapier, hoppier beers — not at all characteristic of most ales from the British Isles — Morrissey's pours Indeed Daytripper, Summit Saga, and Fulton Sweet Child of Vine, among others.
As far as food, I realize the menu is mainly meant to be pub grub and drink soaker-uppers, but you could describe the fare at Merlin's Rest or the Anchor in the same terms, and frankly the food at both of those places is better executed and costs considerably less than at Morrissey's. For example, Morrissey's mini crock of lamb stew, served with a hunk of baguette, did have nice homemade flavor and good balance of seasoning (though the meat was a bit on the chewy side), but still it's stew, the official food of lean times, which makes the $17 price tag all the harder to swallow. Same went for the Full English breakfast. Yes, there are many different items on the plate — rashers, bangers, black and white puddings, eggs, chips, and a cup of Heinz beans — and it's certainly still novel to get a real Full English breakfast at any time of the day in these parts, but to charge $15 for this is highway robbery. I had better at Heathrow, and for less. At an airport. In a country where our dollar is weak. The fish and chips were respectable, and the portion is generous, but the dish proved a bit bland. In a town where you can get the real-deal fish and chips at the Anchor for around $9, why would you pay $12 for these?
I found that the way to go at Morrissey's is to either stick to appetizers or order the corned-beef-based dishes. The classic plate of corned beef and cabbage with colcannon — a mishmash of kale and potatoes that's a welcome alternative to standard mash — was pretty spot-on. The beef was blushing, tender, and not overly salty but was almost upstaged by the side of buttery, caraway-tinged cooked cabbage. The open-faced Reuben sandwich was surprisingly light but packed big flavor. It was covered with bubbly Gruyere cheese and a thin smear of creamy horseradish instead of gloopy thousand island dressing. It's definitely a knife-and-forker but won't leave you feeling weighed down. About 75 percent of the menu is served with chips (i.e., fries, with the option of subbing in "wee tots"), so I really wished there had been more care and consideration in their preparation. It doesn't take much to hand-cut fries, but it makes a world of difference in how they taste. If you do get the chips, order a side of the curry sauce. It's somewhere between brown gravy and a warm, saucy Indian dish — great for dipping and more authentic to the Irish experience than ketchup.
The appetizer menu consists of dishes like mussels in tomato broth, wings (crispy and meaty but glazed with a too-sweet whiskey sauce), and more pub chips, but one of the most unique and well-received items we tried was the boxty wedges. These soft Irish flatbreads had the appearance of toasted triangles of pita but were texturally at the intersection of lefse and a McDonald's breakfast hash brown patty — and I mean that in the best way possible. For a double dose of the things Morrissey's does best, order the corned beef rolls, which have the same basic components as the Reuben but are tucked and rolled into a griddled boxty.
So will Morrissey's be able to lift the supposed curse on this Uptown storefront? Well, I certainly prefer the Irish theme over the Miami one, and I think the rest of the Lyn-Lake neighborhood will too, but if Morrissey's wants its food to have as much of a draw as its whiskey program and lineup of live entertainment, it will need to consider its competition and do a little rejigging.
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