Finnigan’s Wake has got it right

by Brian Clarey

Writing a review for Finnegan’s Wake, the Irish pub in the Winston-Salem arts district, is an inevitability. It’s an Irish pub, for one, which means I have a genetic predisposition for the runic lettering, raw wood finishes and outstanding collection of beers and spirits. And also it’s right across the street from my new office on Trade Street.

A smarter food writer might wait until he’s in a pinch to cover the restaurant closest to his desk, but that is not my style: I’m a jumper-inner.

So before even the phone lines and internet connection are set in the new digs, I grab YES! Weekly entertainment columnist Mark Burger and make for the long, burnished bar.

The place is as authentic as any Irish pub I’ve visited, with all the necessary tchotchkes, soccer on the television and a barman by the name of Norman Kidby who hails from “‘Artford… ‘Artford, England.”

Among my favorite artifacts, besides Kidby, is the blackboard keeping tabs on the 90-day club, that is, patrons attempting to come into the bar at least once a day for 90 in a row. The leader, Kim, stands at 65 days.

Good man, that.

The menu also wears a badge of authenticity – a slew of Irish cooking folded into the more continental restaurant fare.

There is smoked fish and fried cod, an Irish “anti pasta” made from battered and fried vegetables, Guinness stew and bangers and mash. And, to be sure, there is corned beef and its somewhat more savory cousin, pastrami.

Burger opts for a turkey club – what the hell does he know? But I go for something a bit more in tune with the British Isles: an order of Scotch eggs and a shepherd’s pie.

I had never heard of Scotch eggs before – hard-boiled numbers coated with a crust made from Irish sausage and bread crumbs, then deep-fried and served with a mustard sauce. But the bold flavors and outstanding texture have made me a fan for life.

The shepherd’s pie is an authentic taste of the auld sod, as well, perfectly bubbled off and browned in a casserole dish, a portion of hearty warmth on a day that grows colder, it seems, by the minute.

“Me mum,” the barman says, “she would do it with beef and gravy, and chop an onion real fine. Then a layer of peas – or you can use sweet corn – and then the mashed potatoes and mozzarella cheese and just bake it in the oven.

“Course, people around here don’t know the difference between shepherd’s pie and cottage pie. Cottage is made with beef; shepherd’s is made with lamb.”

I like the way his mouth gets around these words, and there’s got to be something to the layers of a shepherd’s pie and the way they settle under the heat that makes it so wonderful to behold.

The portions are large – if I were an actual shepherd, this would be all I’d get to eat for the whole day – but still I manage to take down the eggs and the entire pie. And this means I can’t have dessert, though I want to.

Finnigan’s Wake takes a unique approach to dessert, serving up four or so varieties of sweetness a day, served in shot glasses and presented on a small board for $2 per. Today’s selection includes a key lime something or other and a rocky road mousse, which beg to be sampled, though I haven’t the inclination this afternoon.

Also begging to be explored is the marvelous selection of Scotch and whiskey and the impressive beer cupboard. But this will also have to wait for another day.

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