Irish food is underrated; their beer is not

by Brian Clarey

Irish cooking sometimes gets a bad rap. There’s more to it, you know, than the noble potato and the practice of boiling food until it turns gray, more levels to the food pyramid than oatmeal, meat and whiskey.

The Emerald Isle is country carpeted in rich grasslands with foamy cold seas crashing on the craggy coasts. Fish, livestock, grains and dairy made themselves known in abundance in traditional Irish cuisine long before they began pulling potatoes from the ground.

And yet so many cannot conceive of Irish food beyond corned beef and cabbage. And yes, potatoes.

But you can get corned beef and cabbage all over town, especially on or around St. Paddy’s Day. To further explore the gastronomic joys of the land of Hibernia in Greensboro, you’ve got to go to M’Coul’s.

Finn M’Coul, it’s said, became the stuff of legend after he tasted the Salmon of Knowledge and went on to salvage the reputation of the knighthood. Here at the downtown pub that bears his name, the Salmon of Knowledge is grilled and then doused with a lemon caper butter. No studies have yet been done to determine the effect of the dish on mere mortals, but according to manager Steven Cardillo, steward of the finest mustache in Greensboro, there are plenty of customers who want to give it a try.

‘“There’s a lot of people [in Greensboro] really into Irish culture,’” he says.

To mine this vein the M’Coul’s menu features genuine Irish fare every day of the week. And yeah, they’ve got corned beef and cabbage and a few varieties of cooked potato, but the spread transcends the usual shepherd’s pie and fish and chips, which are prominently featured.

‘“The fish and chips is the most popular thing on the menu by ten times,’” Cardillo says, invoking the light batter laced with Guinness stout as the main factor.

They also serve a traditional lamb stew, Oona’s Guinness and meat pie (yes, sometimes the Irish like to eat their booze) and bangers and mash, made with authentic imported bangers boiled in beer with onions and served with sautéed cabbage.

Those who want to eat just like a lowland farmer can opt for the ploughman’s lunch, a sampling of meats, cheeses, veggies and bread perfect for filling the tank before hitting the back 40.

‘“There’s a lot of proud Irish people in this area,’” Cardillo says, ‘“and we like to cater to those folks as well as those who want to be Irish for a day.’”

A form of temporary citizenship will be granted at M’Coul’s on St. Patrick’s Day, this Friday, and after brunch, which will include an Irish fry breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast and fruit, the activities will include Irish dancers, a wandering bagpiper and a limerick contest with a daylong lineup of live music.

And for those Irish folks not yet in the Program, Cardillo says the bar will be well-stocked with brews like the old-school Fuller’s London Porter; the new wave Victory Hopdevil and the high-octane Chimay Triple, named Cinq Cents, with 8 percent alcohol by volume.

This past August Gov. Mike Easley signed a bill into effect that made legal the sale of beers over 6 percent alcohol content.

‘“The Pop the Cap program really paid off for us,’” he says, ‘“especially for a beer nerd like myself.’”

To be sure, the sons of the auld sod and the temporarily Irish alike will frolic at M’Coul’s on St. Paddy’s Day. And when the party’s over, the tradition will carry on.

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