Bull McCabe’s in Union Square, Somerville, a tiny Irish pub, is one of the coziest spots to spend a chilly winter evening. Draft Guinness and great reggae, funk, and jazz bands are the main draw, but it’s worth arriving before the show for a bite to eat. Five years ago, it replaced the popular Tir na Nog pub. The space is narrow and warm, with a bar that runs the length of the railroad layout with a pocket of space for performers in front of a boarded up fireplace.
Adjacent to the bar are half a dozen high tables that line a row of bookshelves filled with dusty volumes and old board games. Tucked in one corner, behind the bar, is a closet of a kitchen that turns out tasty pub fare.
We start with hand-cut potato skins ($8), filled with cheddar, sour cream, and onion; it’s hard to go wrong. We add bacon ($2), which makes us happy. Next time we’ll spring for the skins with housemade chili ($12). That beef chili ($9) tastes like it could have used some more simmering time to really let the flavors develop. But topped with tortillas chips, warm from the fryer, and jalapenos, onion, and cheddar-Jack, it’s still a satisfying bowl.
The po’ boy du jour ($14) is overflowing with fried shrimp one night (another, fried cod is the filling). A fresh baguette is slathered with remoulade and topped with sweet pickles, red onion, lettuce, and tomato. This is a crisp, creamy, crunchy sandwich. Pan-seared crab cakes ($13) are generous mounds of lump crab studded with sweet peppers and celery, fried to golden, served with more of that tasty remoulade. Chicken Caesar wrap ($12) is simple and satisfying, with grilled chicken and crunchy romaine. It’s even better Buffalo style, with hot sauce and blue cheese in the mix.
Service is always casual and pleasant, with friendly flannel-clad bartenders who are happy to hop back and forth from behind the bar to take care of you. The kitchen is a little more uneven. On one visit marinated sirloin tips ($17) are charred black and tough, as if they’d missed the marinade all together. Poutine ($9) is a large plate of delicious golden fries and cheese curds, but the gravy topping is pasty, thick, and unappetizing.
Two diners complain that the Irish breakfast burger ($13) is bland. Topped with cheddar, Irish bacon, and a fried egg, it just needs more seasoning in the meat. The black and blue burger is delicious, seasoned with a Cajun spice mix and topped with crispy bacon, blue cheese, and blue-cheese dressing. The rich creamy cheese cuts right through the spice.
We ask if the special, jalapeno sloppy joe sliders ($13) can have a side and be made as a full-size burger. The kitchen is happy to accommodate us, and we’re met with a fiery, messy, delicious meal.
Bull’s is just what you want in a friendly neighborhood pub. Come for the great music and pints, but stay for the classic Irish pub fare.Catherine Smart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.