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Friday, March 11, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Restaurant Review

Seattle eyes are smiling: food and foam at friendly pubs

Seattle Times restaurant critic

Paddy Coyne's 3 stars


1190 Thomas St., Seattle; 206-405-1548.

Irish pub food

$

Reservations: not accepted.

Web site: www.paddycoynes.net

Hours: daily 11 a.m.- 2 a.m. (happy hour 4-6 p.m. and 10 p.m.-midnight, nightly).

Prices: soups/salads/starters $2.95-$7.75, burgers/sandwiches $7.95-$9.95, Irish classics $7.50-$10.95, desserts $3.25-$5.95.

Sound: Prepare to shout on busy nights, otherwise conversation-friendly.

Parking: on-street.

Who should go: Adults (it's 21-and-over only) with a hunger for high-quality Irish eats and other excellent pub fare, and a thirst for a proper Irish pint — or something harder.

Full bar / credit cards: AE, MC, V / no obstacles to access / smoking on patio only.

The Celtic Swell 2.5 stars


2722 Alki Ave. S.W., Seattle; 206-932-7935.

Irish pub food

$

Reservations: accepted.

Web site: www.celticswell.com

Hours: 4 p.m.-2 a.m., Mondays; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 9 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturdays-Sundays (brunch menu served till 3 p.m.); happy hour 10 p.m.-midnight nightly, 3-5 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays.

Prices: starters $4-$8, soups/salads/"Swell Potatoes" $4-$13, main dishes $8-$18, desserts $3.50-$6; brunch specialties $5-$13.

Sound: lively, yet conversation-friendly.

Parking: on-street.

Who should go: Alki Beach-goers, beer-drinking buddies, Irish whiskey fans, hungry families.

Full bar / credit cards: AE, DISC, MC, V / obstacles to access (keg-storage makes restroom-access tight) / smoking permitted after 10 p.m.

It's easy to imagine the Emerald City as the Emerald Isle, after checking out two of Seattle's recent additions to its growing crop of Irish pubs. It's easy to understand why, especially on a Certain Day next week, we're all happy to join the crowd of honorary Irishers, hoisting a pint o' Guinness and singing "Danny Boy" (with feeling!).

Paddy Coyne's Irish Pub

Barkeep Pat Coyne, a Galway native and co-owner of the U District's Irish Emigrant, expanded his interests last summer, taking his talent — and his name — to South Lake Union. Paddy Coyne's — a 21-and-over venue — anchors a prime slot in the Alcyone building, whose urban condo-dwellers can be proud to call his place their Irish living room.

Broad glass windows let in the sun by day, reflecting this pub's polished dark-wood accents. A petite patio offers a visual snapshot of the Cascade neighborhood P-Patch, while indoors a gas-fueled fireplace ups the atmospheric ante.

On weekend evenings, prepare for a beastly volume: too many people having too much fun in too snug a space. Get over it and join the merry-makers. Though service may lag when the joint's jumping, the draughts are generous, the small bar is fully stocked, and the food — soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches and a roster of Irish favorites — is remarkably good.

Don't like crowds? Show up for a late lunch on a quieter weekday and order the "Golden Buck" ($7.95). Finish off this marvelous mess of toast points, tomatoes, bacon and poached eggs — heaped with a heady cheese sauce smacking of beer and mustard — and you won't have room for dinner. Nor, unfortunately, for Olympic Mountain's lush Irish whiskey praline ice cream ($3.25).

Billiard players might vie for a turn at the table in a small room in back ringed by a ledge just wide enough to hold a cold Harp and some hot zing-wings ($6.95). "Wait!" you say? Buffalo wings in an Irish pub? Aye. They're boffo bar fare whether your accent's from Ballymore or Buffalo. What's more, these head a happy-hour menu offered twice nightly. Listed among those discounted deliciosities are Irish stew and fish and chips — each as good as it gets.

That stew ($8.50, $4.25 at happy hour) is a brawny bowl of Guinness-braised beef. Its stout-enhanced gravy packs a peppery punch tempered by a side of Irish soda bread. Complimentary with the stew, the dark, close-crumbed bread is available by the basket ($1.50) and you'll want to take home a loaf ($4.95). The fabulous fish and chips are ale-battered Alaskan cod given the herbed-breadcrumb treatment ($10.95, $5.50 at happy hour). Fleet frying makes the tartar sauce an unnecessary embellishment for these crisp, moist morsels: Use it instead for the shoestring fries.

Those fries accompany an array of burgers (meat, chicken, fish, veg) and several of the hot sandwiches (including a BLT and turkey club). Friends of Dr. Atkins can blow off these and the "Meal in a Peel" (overstuffed potatoes, $7.95, served with Caesar salad), and opt for the no-carb patty melt. That glorious glut of ground chuck with grilled onions, fresh mushrooms and melted cheddar, arrives alongside a bacon- and bleu cheese-dressed iceberg wedge ($8.95). Love it!

Be sure to check the blackboard for specials. If the luck of the Irish is with you, you'll be forking into corned beef and cabbage ($10.95) whose Wow!-inducing mashed potatoes get their exclamation point from fresh horseradish. As for that cabbage — an al dente hunk of greenery — yes, you may kiss the cook.

The Celtic Swell

West Seattle neighbors need look no further than Alki Beach for a traditional taste of Ireland, thanks to Gareth Hughes (late of Armagh) and his gang of friendly servers at The Celtic Swell. Open since summer, it feels like it's been there for generations. It offers a long, inviting bar well-stocked with thirsty locals, kegs of Magners hard cider and a world of Irish whiskey.

Patrons take to tables poised along a length of wooden banquette. They converse over big portions of Irish eats and fried-food favorites (mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders, calamari). The Irish don't confine their pub time to evening, and The Celtic Swell carries on the tradition with a weekend breakfast of Ulster Fry ($13). Eggs, Irish sausage, rashers (bacon), fried tomato, baked beans and black and white pudding will bring out the villager in you.

"Try the Smithwick's," urges our server when asked what's on tap, and we're charmed for sure, by her easy manner, apt suggestion and pronunciation lesson: "Say 'SMID-icks.' " We did, and this nut-brown ale went down well with our "sliders" ($8).

Slender hand-cut fries were a pleasant surprise alongside five silver-dollar-sized burgers, fun on a homemade bun and the nosh of choice at the Swell. These are just the ticket to brighten the day of the wee ones, who may stay till 10 p.m. (After that it's adults-only.)

Join family and friends here on Monday nights, when musicians lift lute and flute — dining and jamming and providing the traditional Irish soundtrack for a fun-filled evening.

Tuesday nights it's Pub Quiz — where trivia buffs compete for prizes.

The kitchen could win a prize for its Harp-battered halibut and chips ($13), whose creamy coleslaw helps make this a menu must-have. Ditto for their potato-leek soup, served a la carte ($4/$6), or complimentary with burgers and sandwiches. A "cup" of this fluffy potage, generously poured into a shallow bowl, plays supporting cast to a terrific grilled chicken sandwich ($9). Both soup and sandwich come topped with bacon and melted cheese, adding crunch and an ooey-gooey texture.

The kitchen won't, however, win any prizes for consistency.

One night's starter, "Sausage Rolls" ($7), arrived as two puff-pastry turnovers whose buttery edges were burnt. These bore a striking resemblance (and flavor-profile) to the "Vegetable Pasty" entree ($10). An order of bangers and mash, plump pork sausages with garlic mashed potatoes and sausage gravy ($10), offered one nicely grilled banger and an undercooked twin. Colorful greens accompanying main dishes did better when overdressed with blood-orange balsamic vinaigrette than underdressed with its roasted-pepper counterpart.

Guinness proves all too shrill when used as the not-so-secret ingredient in a gloppy demi-glace, presented in a ramekin (leave it be!) alongside the country classic, Shepherd's pie ($10).

But it's the star accompaniment to the warm, fudgy Chocolate Guinness Brownie ($6). It's in the ice cream! Who could have guessed that the famous Irish export could be so light and luscious?

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or taste@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/nancyleson.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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