Smoke-free Patrick's offers more than standard pub fare

EATS

Dining For $25 Or Less

March 23, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Patrick's is, famously, the oldest Irish pub in the entire nation, decades older than the runner-up, McSorley's Ale House in New York City. It's been owned by the same family since 1847 and has operated from the same location since 1862.

Patrick Rowley, the current owner with his wife Anne, says the bar was founded by his great-great uncle, Pat Healey, and was originally called Patrick Healey's, then Rowley's. The bar has been billing itself as the nation's oldest for at least 50 years, and nobody has yet stepped forward to prove otherwise, he said.

When Patrick and Anne took over in 1999, they closed the pub for several months to clean and renovate. After spending about five days scouring the smoke stains out of the tin ceiling, the Rowleys decided to declare their little corner of Baltimore a no-smoking zone. As Patrick Rowley pointed out, that put him and his wife a few years ahead of Ireland as a whole, which has outlawed smoking since 2004.

Patrick's is small. A long wooden bar dominates about half the space, and a row of tables is lined up under a row of windows. But it is remarkably uncluttered, especially when one considers all the history it contains within its walls. It's also blessedly free of cutesy four-leaf clovers and dancing leprechauns, even in the days surrounding St. Patrick's Day.

That lack of clutter is a good thing, since Patrick's can get mighty crowded, especially on penny-a-pint nights, which take place about once a month.

The decision to ban smoking has gone a long way toward making Patrick's one of the most inviting places around. But it's certainly not the only reason this place is so special.

Really, it's the personality of the Rowleys and the rest of the Patrick's crew that makes this tiny and spotless pub shine. On a recent visit, I was served by Tom, a cheerful white-haired man with an easy manner and ready laugh. Another equally cheerful and white-haired man, also wearing the green Patrick's T-shirt of a staffer, actually gave us an entire crab cake platter for free, saying he had ordered it as a favor for another customer, but that customer was allergic to shellfish.

Try to get service like that at some of the city's fancier restaurants.

In the pub's early days, it didn't even sell food, just gave it away. Now, Patrick's boasts a fairly sophisticated menu that focuses on such Irish fare as shepherd's pie and corned beef but also includes seared ahi tuna and even house-made samosas.

The justly renowned ahi tuna appetizer ($13.95) features slices of fresh fish coated in a peppery crust and seared so they are white and firm on the outside, while still pink and moist within. These are served with a small bowl of soy sauce and a mound of wasabi, and they're really good. They're restaurant food, not bar food.

A corned beef sandwich ($6.95) features some of the leanest meat around, moistened with a dollop of mustard and piled high on rye bread. And then there's the shepherd's pie ($16.95), piled high with swirls of mashed potatoes, with a savory stew of beef and vegetables within. My only complaint here is that some of the beef chunks were chewier than they might have been. (Hey, I've yet to find a restaurant that's 100 percent perfect.)

Crab cakes (market price), touted on the menu as the 2003 City Paper favorite, were, indeed, quite good, with plenty of lump meat and a slightly dry texture. These were served with a cucumber salad and a couple of roast potatoes that both looked better than they tasted. The cucumbers lacked a good vinegary zing, and the roast potatoes, though they boasted a gorgeously brown crust, were greasy.

Desserts at Patrick's include Moxley's ice creams and sorbets and a housemade chocolate mousse, made with Ghirardelli chocolate. This arrives in a martini glass, coated with a generous swirl of whipped cream, with a large chocolate garnish. A French dessert made with Italian chocolate isn't exactly Irish. But it's heavenly.

Patrick's of Pratt Street

Where:

131 S. Schroeder St.

Call:

410-576-8899

Open:

Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday, dinner on Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday

Credit cards:

All major

Prices:

Appetizers $7.95-$13.95, entrees $7.95-$21.95

Food:

*** (3 STARS)

Service:

*** (3 STARS)

Atmosphere:

***1/2 (3 1/2 STARS)

[Outstanding:**** Good:*** Fair or uneven:** Poor:*

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