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Two things to remember before you visit The Irish Rover:
- Ten dollars will take you a long way at this Louisville Original, but $15 goes so much further.
- Don’t wear Spanx during your meal.
The Irish Rover delivers food hearty enough to stretch your waistline while your budget remains fairly intact. I say “fairly” because it’s hard not to sample a variety of dishes from a menu bursting with descriptions that make everything sound delicious. And the good (and bad) part about it is that everything lives up to its introductory prose.
The restaurant’s atmosphere is well-worn and humble, thanks in part to its location in a 150-year-old building on Frankfort Avenue. The entrance thrusts patrons directly into the bar area where drinkers mingle with folks just waiting for their table. It got a little cramped during my weeknight visit, but Rob and I were rewarded for our brief wait with a quaint table for two in a dim section of the restaurant. Lots of hardwood? Low lighting? A handsome date? I was a fan.
I quickly snapped out of my romantic lull when the waitress handed me the menu. This is when things got real.
I don’t know much about Irish cooking. But if I use The Irish Rover as my definitive guide, I would say the diet of our friends across the pond is filled with lamb, fish, potatoes and cabbage. In short, stick-to-your-ribs food.
Irish food is more than just Guinness Beef Stew ($6.95), fish and chips (market price) and bangers and mash ($6.95). The Irish Rover takes (what I assume are) traditional Irish ingredients like fish and rabbit and presents it in dishes that make the ingredients more accessible to those not used to this genre of food. For example, the Welsh Rabbit sandwich slides this meat into a grilled cheddar cheese sandwich on sourdough bread (totally mistaken about the Welsh rabbit, y’all) (with Irish chips, $6.95); salmon is presented
in casserole form with potatoes, cream and Swiss and Parmesan cheeses (smoked salmon and potato gratin, $8.95); prawn are paired with cashews in a light salad ($9.95). I wish I could say something more poetic than, “Everything looked good.” But it was true. Everything on the menu did look good, from the appetizers to the desserts.
I wanted a little taste of everything. We started with the Cordon Bleu Fritters ($4.95), little balls of ham, chicken and Swiss cheese batter and deep fried. They were crunchy, gooey and delightful. I followed with a cup of leek and potato soup ($2.95), a rich soup that was a soothing chaser to the sharpness of the fritters.
I was all set to order the lamb-stuffed cabbage ($12.95) until our nice waitress began to list the evening’s specials. I heard the words “meatloaf,” “stuffed with bleu cheese” and “brown gravy” before I blacked out from disbelief that such flavors could exist in one dish. When I came to, I ordered the bleu-cheese stuff meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy ($12.95).
At this point, my abdomen was screaming at the Spanx that was supposed to hold me into my date-night dress. I couldn’t possibly dive into this plate of deliciousness, could I? Oh, yes, I could.
This was a meal for the record books. A rich brown gravy covered two thick slices of meatloaf and hid the mixture of bleu cheese and mushrooms stuffed in the center. The creamy gravy and moist beef balanced the tanginess of the bleu cheese, a wonderful combination I would have never considered without The Irish Rover.
The mashed potatoes were lumpy and filled with onion and hunks of potatoes that escaped the masher. The mashed potatoes’ thick consistency was perfect for constant dipping in the gravy sliding along the edges of my place.
The steamed vegetables were the Michelle Williams of this Destiny’s Child of a dish — an ingredient that rounds out the trio, but you could honestly do without it. But I dutifully ate my vegetables to help balance all the meat and potatoes I put back in the course of my meal.
By the end of the night, I wasn’t sure what I was more excited to do — eat the slice of meatloaf and hunk of potatoes in my to-go box or change into more bloat-friendly sweatpants. I may have regretted my choice in foundation undergarments that evening, but I was happy I went over my $10 benchmark. I left with a second meal that reheated wonderfully and a taste of Ireland.
The Irish Rover, 2319 Frankfort Ave., Louisville
Cordon Bleu Fritters: $4.95
Leek and Potato Soup: $2.95
Bleu Cheese-Stuffed Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Vegetables: $12.95
Total (without tax and tip): $20.85