I’m not making an honest attempt at hitting up everything British Isles in Pittsburgh, but it really does seem that way. Perhaps it’s the season: the weather getting consistently cool and gray, I’m finding myself wanting hearty stews and large pints of Guinness. There’s really no better place to find such a thing than at a pub or restaurant with the emphasis on the cuisine of the British Isles.
In regards to last Tuesday’s trip to Mullaney’s Harp & Fiddle, the other main drawing factor for me and my dining companion was the promise of a free Irish dance class, to be followed by dancing by and with the Celtic Society of Pittsburgh. Kait is of Irish stock, so maybe the cultural ties to her heritage appealed to her, but probably more the notion of drinking some Guinness and learning a few dance steps.
As for me, I will openly admit that I am a terrible dancer. There are many things that I am passable at, but dancing is simply not one of them. But I have a fondness for Irish music (traditional Irish music too, not just a crazed adoration for The Pogues), and looking at a dance clip on the Mullaney’s website, Irish dancing seemed almost like a square dance. I may not be able to move exactly to the beat or even succeed at not tripping over my own feet, but I’ve been a decent square dancer in the past (the long ago past, when square dancing was taught in gym class, as well as something us Girl Scouts were instructed in). But what the hell, maybe an hour or two of drinks and company would quickly wear the routine out of the traditional dances. I was ready to settling for interesting experiment, but holding out hope for a full on hootenany.
Around seven, the dance floor was still empty. Quarter past it was still empty. We figured maybe the class was cancelled for the evening. A lone pair of dancers worked out steps on the floor, but it didn’t look like a situation we could jump into. For the time being, we were happy to focus on our food.
Intrigued by the sound of chicken mushroom ravioli listed under the “Small Plates”, Kait received a sound warning from our waitress who told us that “small plate” was a fairly accurate description. So she ordered the ravioli and a house salad, which was a smart move. Our waitress’s warning was well-informed – the ravioli came on a long narrow plate in a steep pool of sauce with a heaping of fresh greens, but the initial visual interest gave way to slight disappointment. Only two (to be fair, decently sized) ravioli graced the plate. They were a bit more dumpling sized than your average ravioli, but the price of the small plate far exceeded both the dish’s size and quality.
The problem wasn’t with the sauce, which, although gravy-like, was full of flavor that yielded to the other ingredients on the plate. The thin sliced, chewy mushrooms were a good compliment to the soft dough of the ravioli. The dough itself was tasty, especially given its time soaking in the brown sauce. But the real detracting factor of this dish proved to be the chicken filling, which was surprisingly dry. You got a lot of flavor from exterior elements, with none of the taste once you got into the interior. Easy enough problem to fix once eating – simply swim each forkful of ravioli in the sauce. But a little underwhelming.
I eat so little salad this time of year, that Kait’s house salad was weirdly tantalizing to me. I like some of the more elaborate salads out there, but there really is something to be said for simple salads, some greens, some tomatoes, some onion, and maybe some pine nuts for texture. The house salad is a tricky beast – so often its composed of iceberg lettuce and not much else. It’s treatment is that of an afterthought or obligation. Most restaurants must have one, but they don’t really have to think about it at all. This one was simultaneously effortless and present. It wasn’t that a great deal of thought went into this specific plate – it’s that there was an intention upon creating this house salad menu item that it would not be just a total waste of calories in a bowl. That original intention carries over.
I was on the fence. I was hungry, but, as always, budget-conscious. But hunger, alas, won out. I scanned the menu for affordable options. Noticing a good deal on a half a sandwich and cup of soup, I asked what the sandwich and soup du jour was. Well, I didn’t care for the sound of roast beef and cheddar, but the moment the words “Shrimp Creole” came out of our waitress’ mouth, I knew I’d be ordering a bowl, if not a gallon jug.
It was a good idea. The rainy night called for something warm and filling. The soup was hearty and thick without being too creamy or stew-like. Seemingly every spoonful came up with a bit of shrimp here, a bit there, but there was little seafood (fishy) tasting about the soup. Instead, it reminded me a thinner jambalaya, bursting with creole seasoning, a little salty, a little spicy, a little sweet. The rolls were tough enough to serve as excellent additions to the soup, but soft enough to bite into without fear of breaking a tooth. I needed a good deal for my meal, and I got one.
Around 8 pm, the serious dancing began. We weren’t aware that the pair of us would be expected to find male partners. A faux pas later, we were joined by a friendly male single dancer who offered to be our third in the first dance. Alas, Kait took to the dancing surer than I. Forevermore the graceless dancer, I took my seat and stayed an enthused spectator to the live music and lively Irish dance.