Conor O'Neill's is a traditional Irish pub on Main Street in Ann Arbor; there's also one in Boulder, CO, but I haven't been to that one. Interestingly, the place doesn't seem like a chain restaurant -- it definitely has a secure spot in the Irish lineage, but it still seems unique to our little burb.
I've gotta say that it's kinda loud ... and really, that's an understatement. 'Cause remember, it's primarily a bar. A bar with great food and friendly service and maps of Ireland and pictures of my beloved James Joyce, but a bar nonetheless.
So when Jeremy and I go there to eat -- yes, eat: I almost never drink, and Jeremy's not old enough to do so (legally!) -- we always try to get a small table tucked in the back, behind a wall. It has a bench seat on one side and 2 chairs on the other, so there isn't even the debate you sometimes get between people who prefer booths vs. people who'd rather sit at standard tables. And it's not exactly quiet, but it's quieter.
But that's okay, 'cause I have never, ever had a bad meal or dish or garnish or anything there. The food is fabulous! For starters, two of my favorite appetizers are mussels in a creamy, garlicky sauce (so amazing that I once asked for a small container to take home the extra to pour over pasta!) and Brie baked in a beer batter. Those decisions are pretty easy, and Jeremy will choose the mussels every time to make my life just a little bit easier. But then we move on to the entrees ... and, well, we all know how much trouble I have with that.
Shepherd's Pie, featuring cheese-topped mashed potatoes and a gravy made with Bass Ale? Fisherman's Pie with a luscious, creamy cheese-and-dill sauce generously loaded with salmon and shrimp? The Irish Boxty, essentially an enormous plate-sized latke topped with grilled vegetables and pesto mayonnaise? The slow-cooked Irish lamb stew in a rich Guinness gravy? You can see that an omnivore like moi, who also happens to be one-quarter Irish, would fall in love with every option and feel as though she were being unfaithful to all the others!
But when I was last at Conor O'Neill's with Jeremy, I settled upon the fish and chips. I hadn't eaten it for awhile and, truth be told, they make the best variation on this seemingly simple dish that I have ever eaten. (The menu itself tells you that it's "The best you've ever tasted!") The batter is made with Bass Ale, but that's not the only key ingredient; another is knowing just how long to fry the fish, so that they're not slightly burnt but also not greasy. Truly, the fish is absolute perfection. Even the excellent fries pale by comparison.
Now, Jeremy doesn't ever have these menu dilemma issues. If there's a Reuben on the menu, he will order it. And there's a Reuben on the menu at Conor O'Neill's ... a classic one of corned beef, Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut and rye, grilled to toasted, gooey beauty.
As Jeremy puts it, this specimen doesn't offer as much corned beef as some other restaurants do; however, each and every bite is meltingly tender, whereas the places that might give you more beef are using a lesser quality ingredient that is often chewy or gristled. 'Tis better to have less of an exceptional product than globs of a mediocre one. So this is Jeremy's favorite Reuben, other than the one he ate at the Carnegie Deli in NYC which was amazing even though it was about a foot tall (or maybe 1/2" shorter, but pretty close).
Fortunately, since Irish "fayre" is some of my favorite food, Conor O'Neill's is very conveniently located -- no plane rides for the phobic, yay!!! And we'll be going back there fairly soon, for Jeremy's birthday in January. As I typed this, I asked him if he wanted to go back there again as we have for several years (enough to make it a tradition). He looked at me as though I were the most foolish creature on Earth and said, "Pfft! Yeah!" Oh, if only I could type out the disdain and dismay in his voice!
But I love him anyway, so Conor O'Neill's it will be on January 10 ....
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