Bangers and mash in a pub setting


May 23, 2002|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bangers. Mash. Champ.

Sounds more like something you'd read in Sports Illustrated than on a menu. But all of these are right there on the menu of Sean Bolan's Irish Pub and Restaurant in Federal Hill. And each one packs a better punch than Mike Tyson could ever deliver.

Bangers in British Isles parlance are sausages. Mash is mashed potatoes, and champ is what the Irish call mash. At Sean Bolan's, the bangers are superb, mild, cigar-sized sausages boiled for several hours with onions and pickling spices before going on the grill. Whether served in a sandwich or as an entree, bangers come with mash/champ, a mound of mashed potatoes whipped to a not-too-fine point with cream, butter and scallions.

If you opt for the entree (as we did), you get the added delight of rich brown gravy made primarily of Samuel Smith's nut-brown ale poured on top, and several seared tomato wedges on the side to bring a fruity touch to the mix.

Other dishes on the menu have names that are more recognizable on this side of the pond.

The best of the bunch, hands down, was the mussel appetizer: two dozen perfect mussels stacked above a tawny pool of a full-bodied sauce of wine, shallots, garlic, lemon and Harp beer. Coming in a close second was the Irish seafood chowder, a thick combination of mussels, shrimp, cod and salmon with a surprising peppery kick.

A slab of fatty New York strip steak was not worthy of the creamy Harp-and-Jameson-whiskey sauce ladled over the top or the perfectly cooked mushrooms strewn around the platter. In the fish and chips entree, the cod fillets were burned, but the chips were not.

Side salads were remarkable only for their freshness and excellent blue-cheese dressing loaded with lumps of cheese.

Bringing up the rear was an anemic Irish stew of overcooked but decent-sized lamb chunks swimming in a wishy-washy broth.

Bolan's does not offer desserts (given the gargantuan portion sizes, you might not have room, anyway). However, owner Ken Krucenski - a self-described beer geek - occasionally will make ice-cream floats with peach and raspberry beers. For the more adventurous beer lover with a sweet tooth, he'll make a Guinness float.

Krucenski's ties to things Irish is personal. He named the pub after one in Tipperary, where members of his wife's family congregate. He serves what he likes and what he's found in Irish cookbooks.

He's done a good job of creating a clubby pub atmosphere with exposed brick walls and wood trim. Most of the drinkers congregate on the first floor, along the bar or clustered on stools around bar tables. The upstairs is quieter, but equally cozy for diners, who can sit next to windows overlooking Light Street.

The pub's warmth did not extend to our server. She was efficient, yet not forthcoming initially about specials or details about the food and drink. She became friendlier over time, but a little more enthusiasm up front would have made the evening more pleasant.

Sean Bolan's Irish Pub and Restaurant

Where: 1236 Light St.

Open: For dinner Monday through Saturday; lunch on Saturday

Prices: Appetizers $2.95 to $7.95; entrees $5.95 to $14.95

Credit cards: AE, MC, V

Call: 410-837-4440

Food: ** 1/2

Service: ** 1/2

Atmosphere: ** 1/2

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