In 1927, a man named Jack O’Neill went from Ireland to New York and sent one letter back to his family. “I’m in a place called The Bowery in New York,” he wrote home, says his distant cousin Colm O’Neill. Jack was never heard from again.
Colm and his wife, Denise, are partners in the new Eat With Jack O’Neill, along with Colm’s brother Diarmuid (often pronounced “Dermot”), who owns the Squealing Pig in Mission Hill and Provincetown, and his wife, Sara Cole-O’Neill. Colm says the name is “a tip of the cap” to all the long-lost relatives who went from Ireland to America and worked hard just to keep their heads above water. They added “Eat With,” he says, to emphasize that this isn’t just a pub, but a place for meals. The partners hung a photo of John F. Kennedy with his cousins, and another of the pope because traditionally every country pub in Ireland and every home had them. The O’Neill brothers were raised in Cork City.
There are several sides to the operation. The slender pub on Centre Street, formerly West Roxbury Pub, was renovated last summer. Adjacent is a large restaurant, which opened in January. The pub is funky, with a long bar, some tables in the center, and booths. There are still customers who come in, slug down a whiskey, and, fortified, go on their way.
There’s a bakery at the street entrance to the restaurant, which has an industrial feel, with a communal table, large antique etageres to hold baked goods, and rotisseries for chicken, lamb, and pork. The dining area is separated cleverly from the bakery by a wall of windowpanes.
The menu features many dishes you might expect, in large portions: a few hearty pies ($14.99 to $15.99), some rotisserie items ($15.99 to $18.99), lots of potatoes ($5.99), and some grills ($13.99 to $22.99).
Deviled eggs ($5.99) stuffed with smoked trout are six halves of golden, creamy, smoky yolks and tender whites, a perfect rendition. Cornish pasties ($9.99) are pretty as pictures. Turnovers, crimped on top, encase leeks and potato (they also come with lamb). The soft pastry is probably nothing like the turnovers that Cornwall miners took for lunch. These are a fine update, but the filling needs a wee bit more seasoning. Fish cake ($9.99) mixed with corn and cilantro is also underseasoned, so the smoked salmon garnish is welcome, as is lots of mesclun. But too many plates come with the greens, and they’re the same every time — no other lettuces mixed in, too little dressing, and only a crumble or two of goat cheese.
At a place called Eat With Jack O’Neill, you expect outstanding fish and chips and you get it. Two very large fillets ($13.99), golden and deliciously crisp, sit on a generous bed of chips, a mayo rosy with red wine and vinegar on the side. It really serves two, so you’re looking at tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s lunch.
The best of the savory pies is shepherd ($14.99), with its lamb filling in a savory sauce, rosettes of mashed potato on top. Fish pie ($15.99) has a creamy sauce with salmon and cod, and smoky tastes from bacon and smoked haddock. The golden, flaky crust is soggy at the point under the top where it meets the filling.
Tempting rotisserie meats turn out to produce well-done, but tender, leg of lamb ($18.99). Champ, that great Irish potato mash with scallions, sits beside it; the two would be a fine pair if the lamb weren’t dry. Drunken carrots with a whiskey glaze and ginger taste like neither, but the sweet roots are lovely on the plate.
Denise O’Neill, who moved here from Dublin with Colm for this venture, is running the kitchen. She trained as chef at the famed Ballymaloe, then studied at the National Bakery School in Dublin. She is quite a good baker and her food is generally well executed, but there’s a temperature problem with many things. Items you would expect at room temperature are stone cold, including three beautiful Irish breads ($2.50). Things that should be hot, like most of the entrees, arrive only warm.
With its high-backed booths and red leatherette tufted banquettes, white tablecloths with gray woven mats, and large woven rope chandeliers — light fixtures that could be on a ship — the dining room is comfortable and stylish. As the meal winds down, quite a wonderful chocolate tart ($9) arrives straight from the fridge, and cookies are ice cold.
The O’Neills seem to understand the hospitality and pub business, so these are probably growing pains. They’re the generation who came to America to work hard and flourish. And they will at this endeavor too.
EAT WITH JACK O’NEILL
1885 Centre St., West Roxbury, 617-469-2624, www.eatwithjack.com. All major credit cards. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers, salads, soups $5.99-$9.99. Entrees $13.99-$22.99 (most under $19).
Hours Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-1 a.m. (kitchen closes 10 p.m.) Sat-Sun 10 a.m.-1 a.m. (kitchen closes 11 p.m.)
Liquor Full bar
What to order Fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, Cornish pasties, deviled eggs, Irish breads