WHO’S IN CHARGE Every St. Patrick’s Day, I wonder: Why limit a meal of corned beef and cabbage, or an authentic Irish breakfast, to one day? Why not savor it year-round?
A friend who hails from Ireland recommended Bunratty Tavern in Reading. “It’s the real deal,” he said in his thick brogue.
Owner Eilish Havey opened the 150-seat tavern with a 50-seat patio in June 2015. After immigrating from Dublin, Havey, a former competitive Irish dancer, worked at a number of Irish pubs in Boston for two decades.
“When are you going to open your own?” friends and customers would ask. After her family moved to North Reading, she found the Main Street location in the neighboring town. Named after Bunratty Road in her hometown of Coolock, it is a “tavern” in name only (Reading doesn’t allow pubs or bars).
THE LOCALE Stepping inside Bunratty Tavern is like walking into a pub in Ireland. Authentic Guinness advertising prints and Guinness oak barrel pub tables decorate the interior of the late 1800s brick building that Havey had rebuilt from scratch.
Boldly painted walls in muted gold, green, and orange punctuate the handcrafted mahogany bar, church-like archway rising high in the center, and antique stained glass windows imported from Ireland that once adorned the former Kitty O’Shea’s in Boston.
Irish bands perform on Friday and Saturday nights. Saturdays, from 3 to 6 p.m., there’s lively seisiúns, informal gatherings of traditional Irish music, which local musicians are welcomed to join. “Sometimes we have up to 20 people,” said Havey.
ON THE MENU Of course, there’s traditional Irish dishes, like shepherd’s pie ($13) and the corned beef dinner ($17), especially good with freshly poured Guinness.
What we didn’t expect — and enjoyed immensely — were Irish spins on popular ethnic dishes. The Bunratty spring rolls ($10), two large egg rolls stuffed with corned beef and shredded cabbage, all tossed in a creamy horseradish sauce and deep-fried, left the filling moist and juicy. It’s a delicious mash-up on the typical boiled dinner.
Perfect comfort food was the shepherd pie skins ($10). Four half-portions of potato skins were hollowed out, reloaded with a generous scoop of shepherd’s pie (ground beef, sautéed onions, and carrots), then covered with cheese and baked until the topping was melted and bubbling and the skins crispy-crunchy.
Add a side salad to either starter and call it a meal. Our choice, the country garden salad ($8), came with a bonus: a side of homemade brown bread.
Almost all dishes are under $20, including sandwiches ($12 to $13) and hefty, half-pound Angus burgers ($10 to $14; also, veggie and turkey burgers). A full Irish breakfast — sausages, bacon, black and white pudding, two eggs any style, Bachelors Baked Beans, mushrooms, tomato, and brown bread ($14), is available all day.
Like a tourist desperate to visit all the top spots, we chose the Bunratty Irish sampler ($14). The filling trio of traditional dishes, each served in a ramekin, were hard to finish.
Beef stew overflowed with huge chunks of meat, carrots, and potatoes in a pool of rich, beef gravy. Swirls of mashed potatoes covered the shepherd’s pie and cottage pie, a crustless pot pie-type dish filled with generous chunks of chicken, carrots, and potatoes with creamy gravy.
Dublin Bay fish and chips ($16) was another favorite. Large portions of fresh cod were moist and flaky after being dipped in house-made beer batter and deep-fried to a golden brown.
Next trip, we’ll order an Irish breakfast for dinner, a fresh pint, and sing.
Bunratty Tavern, 620 Main St., Reading. 781-779-8245, bunrattytavern.com.
Kathy Shiels Tully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.