Green just may be the new black, at least when it comes to Cleveland dining. For every French, Italian or Vietnamese restaurant that opens, there seems to be double that amount of Irish pubs. Given the ever-expanding crop of Celtic saloons, one can be forgiven for confusing Cuyahoga County with County Cork.
It's not difficult to see why this specific genre of gin joint has experienced explosive growth: The formula - handsome settings, generous portions, bounteous drink - is one most of us can get behind. Irish bars epitomize comfort, something in high demand of late.
One of the latest entries in the field is P.J. McIntyre's, an attractive pub in Kamm's Corners, an area not exactly starved for Irish establishments. Not only is there a handful of other similarly themed taverns in the immediate vicinity, but the Public House, long the standard-bearer, sits less than 150 feet away. In some ways, P.J. McIntyre's lives up to the competition; in others, it falls short.
Like other new Irish pubs, this one is a knockout in appearance. Guests are met not only by the proverbial "rising road," but also by a 40-foot, horseshoe-shaped walnut bar. At the other end of the 3,000-square-foot space is an intricate, stacked-stone fireplace, flanked on either side by stained-glass windows worthy of a house of worship. Diners can prop themselves up at communal high tops, around traditional tables or in snug booths. And the service is as hospitable, sincere and dutiful as one would hope to find in any establishment.
There are few surprises when it comes to the menu, a typical assortment of traditional Irish chestnuts and American pub grub. There also are few triumphs. Given the prices (every item but one comes in under $10), we feel compelled to give dishes the benefit of the doubt. Who cares, for example, that the curry chips ($3.95) are nothing more than steak fries with sugary curry dipping sauce rather than the advertised "seasoned chips." Velveeta may have a culinary leg up on the gloppy "cheese" sauce that accompanies an appetizer of soft pretzels ($4.95), but at least the salty sticks are freshly baked.
Notwithstanding the name, the lobster bisque ($5) would likely pose no significant health risks to a diner with shellfish allergies. While I do not spot a single flake of crimson crustacean, I do unearth numerous chunks of packaged faux crab meat. On the bright side, the brew does boast a pleasant lobster flavor and it possesses the requisite sherry twang. Corned beef and cabbage fans will not be let down by P.J. McIntyre's version ($8.95). Lean but juicy, the rosy boiled beef is sliced thin and piled high with tender cabbage atop a cushion of mashed potatoes. A robust gravy ties it all together.
If the Irish excel at anything in the kitchen, it's potatoes. So why does the pub's boxty ($9.95) taste nothing like spuds? The large pancake is dense, leaden and inexplicably devoid of any real potato flavor. Diners are given a choice of three boxty fillings: steamed veggies, corned beef and sauerkraut, or chicken with peppers and onions. Among the other expected menu items are shepherd's pie, beef stew and an all-day Irish breakfast complete with "bangers, pudding and rashers of bacon." Perhaps the best values in the house are the nightly specials, when hearty homespun dishes like meatloaf, lasagna and fish fries go for just $6 or $7.
The truth is that most customers seem perfectly content with a plain old burger (Mondays are two-for-one night), and it's easy to see why. The meaty half-pounders ($6.95) are grilled right and tucked into a soft knotted roll. Riding shotgun is a clutch of irresistibly crunchy house-made potato chips. Tack on a side salad, like the more-than-acceptable Caesar ($3.95), and you've got yourself a winner of a weekday meal.
P.J. McIntyre's feels less like a neighborhood watering hole than it does community rec center. Before settling in for a bite, parents hand off their daughters to owner Patrick Campbell, a professional stepdancer who runs the upstairs Irish dance school. Siblings not enrolled join their parents and order off the "wee folks" menu, where items like sliders and mini-pizzas cost $4. On weekends, local bands perform on the raised stage while friends tip back pints of Irish, English and American brews.
In the middle of the room is a sturdy directional marker with signs pointing the way to Galway, Dublin and Mayo. At the rate pubs are popping up over here, it wouldn't surprise me to find similar signs in Ireland that read West Park, Lakewood and Detroit Shoreway.
P.J. McIntyre's, 17119 Lorain Ave., 216.941.9311, pjmcintyres.com, Kitchen Hours: Daily, 11 a.m.- 11 p.m.