No Green Beer
By Piet E. Jones
For many, a restaurant with even the most tenuous Irish connection to St. Patrick’s Day can mean only one thing– a pretty raucous party. Green beer, cheap and ever flowing. Music, loud. Shooters, strong and plentiful. Food, well, the food is often more about soaking up the copious amounts of booze. It’s a grand time, the kind of night that inspires many an Instagram tag and stories that become almost mythical after years of retelling.
Irish for the night
Of course, such an unbridled celebration isn’t for everyone. It can be hard on your restaurant and equally hard on your staff. It might not even be right for your clientele. Your diners might be more family oriented. They might simply be less inclined to indulge in an evening of boozy frivolity. Just because they don’t want to partake in the traditionally overindulgent festivities, however, doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t interested in being Irish for the night.
An easy way to satisfy your diners' cravings is running a variety of Irish-inspired specials on and around the big day. Traditional dishes like corned beef with cabbage or an Irish stew are always in high demand and sure to please. That they’re slow cooked dishes with the bulk of the work done before service begins means their addition is less likely to disrupt the flow of your line.
But don’t forget there is more to Irish cooking than just the old standbys. Pies and pastries are lovely Irish dishes that sometimes get overlooked when putting together St. Patrick’s Day menus. Steak and Guinness pie, the beef slow braised in the dark Irish stout until wonderfully tender before being baked into a flakey crust, is sure to be a standout. Pies are also the perfect vehicle for some of the more exotic yet trendy cuts, like kidney and heart. Pastries, think of it as an Irish calzone or samosa, are the way to go if the filling is more dense and less moist. Ground meat, pork or beef, with root vegetables are all you really need for this “hand pie.” To help keep the interior moisture level low, try rutabagas instead of potatoes.
Don't Forget the Irish Starters
To really compliment the entrées, you might consider creating a three or four course set menu to keep the Irish theme going. A robust Guinness cheese spread, a blend of cheddar, blue and cream cheeses spiced with caraway and paprika, served with warm, fresh Irish soda bread could start such a meal off as could a boxty–Ireland’s answer to the latke whipped up with mashed and grated potatoes. Wrapping it all up with a wonderfully moist Irish apple cake drizzled with custard wouldn’t be a bad choice.
Traditional dishes are great, but don’t feel boxed in by the traditional takes on any of these dishes. There’s much inspiration to be had from Irish cuisine and it can be easily harnessed to compliment your style of cooking and locally unique ingredients. Reimagine an Irish Shepherd’s Pie, a rich mixture of minced meat and vegetables, as a slider and served up on a bit sized biscuit. Some of the best flavors are imparted not by heavy seasonings or spices, but by slow cooking and allowing the natural flavors to intensify to a rich creaminess–the liberal use of Guinness for braising liquid doesn’t hurt. For dishes that are best cooked fast, such as salmon, whiskey glazes help lock in moisture and impart a recognizably Irish taste.
And Of Course Family-Friendly Irish
You can also use Ireland as your influence for the children’s menu if you’re playing up the family friendly angle. Irish white cheddar mac-n-cheese? Perfect. Bangers and mash? Lovely. Although their parents might have to explain that it’s sausage and mashed potatoes before they’ll order.
Irish Night Caps
Finally, now that you’ve got them in the door for some seriously Irish inspired eats, don’t forget that just because they’re not here to chug green beer doesn’t mean they don’t want a drink or two. Green cocktails might be a little too obvious and kitschy. Go beyond Bailey’s and add a little Irish Mist to your bar. This Irish whiskey-based liqueur is made with honey and can be a great base for a craft cocktail or two. And just say no to the green beer.
Even if March isn’t one of your slower months, few restaurants can let slip any celebration that might get a few extra customers in the door. You may not want some Pogues cover band leading an all-night bash in your well appointed establishment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t run that Irish flag up the pole and grab those diners that are looking for an Irish meal instead of an Irish brawl. And don’t forget to use your Facebook and other social media accounts to get those cravings flowing– because all that work pulling your delicious dishes together might go under appreciated if no one knows they need to come eat with you now.