A menu of Irish fare that might make you feel lucky

CorrespondentSeptember 30, 2011 

  • 909 Spring Forest Road, Raleigh



    Cuisine: Irish


    Prices: $$

    Atmosphere: authentic Irish pub

    Noise level: moderate

    Service: friendly and efficient

    Recommended: potato and leek soup, boxty, bangers and mash, bread pudding

    Open: Lunch Monday-Friday, dinner nightly, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

    Reservations: accepted

    Other: full bar; accommodates children; modest vegetarian selection; patio

    The N&O's critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: Extraordinary Excellent. Above average. Average. Fair.

    The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.

Tucked behind a Jason's Deli at the end of Sutton Square, Ballymor is almost as hard to find as the fabled pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Persevere, though, and you'll round the corner of the parking lot and spot the faux Georgian facade, painted a brilliant blue worthy of a Doors of Dublin poster.

Step inside, and it's easy to imagine you've just walked through one of those doors. A mahogany bar beckons on the far wall of a room framed in leaded glass partitions, dark woodwork and pressed tin ceiling tiles. Beyond, cozy three-sided booths line the walls leading to a labyrinth of more intimate spaces, from the "library" with its floor-to-ceiling shelves of books and bric-a-brac (much of it imported from Ireland) flanking a gas fireplace, to the "snug bar" (as the Irish aptly call it) in the back.

For the fans

Chef Ryan Cross, a native of Ireland by way of Atlanta, takes his cue from the decor. The bulk of the offering is traditional Irish fare, with a supplemental smattering of contemporary creations such as linguine with mussels and pan-seared pork loin with a cider-brie sauce.

Boxty, Irish potato cakes with a smooth, pancakelike texture, are available with a filling of smoked salmon or blackened chicken. Fried boxty wedges with a hot cheese dipping sauce are a modern twist - an Irish chef's answer to Mexican chips and queso, you might say, and every bit as addictive.

The rest of the appetizer list caters equally to fans of the NFL and of the English Premier League soccer that's shown on Sundays on TV sets over the bar, with an offering that spans the Atlantic from Irish potato and leek soup to Buffalo wings.

But most people come to Ballymor for a taste of the Emerald Isle. Shepherd's pie is, not surprisingly, the best-selling entree. Purists might quibble at the absence of lamb in the dish, but few will fault the flavor of the rosemary-punctuated melange of ground beef, peas and carrots baked under a thick cloud of mashed potatoes.

Fish and chips are another favorite. The batter is lighter than most, so insubstantial that it sometimes falls off the fish before you can get it to your mouth. But the fillets (you get two) are thick and moist, and the authentically thick-cut chips are exemplary. You can also get the chips as a starter, smothered with a gravylike curry sauce or served with Marie Rose sauce (a blend of ketchup and mayonnaise) on the side.

Corned beef and cabbage and a hearty Guinness stew are also popular and sure to become more so as the weather cools. Both are served with house-baked Irish brown bread, as are Bangers and mash: a trio of fat, fine-textured sausages and champ (mashed potatoes with green onions) with onion gravy and glazed carrots.

The full menu - which includes an assortment of sandwiches ranging from Reuben to grilled chicken Caesar wrap to half-pound burger - is available at lunchtime on weekdays, when it's supplemented by a $6.99 lunch special and a $9.95 buffet.

Brunch on weekends

On Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the famously lavish full Irish breakfast (two eggs cooked to order, banger, rasher of Irish bacon, black and white pudding, potatoes, baked beans and grilled tomato) is the featured attraction on a brunch menu that also includes omelets, corned beef hash and French toast.

General manager John Gavin, a native of Ireland and veteran of a number of area pubs (among them Tir na nOg and Connolly's), heads up a dining room staff that's efficient and friendly (and in some cases, downright chatty).

The icing on the Irish tea cake, you might say, is Gavin's accent, which adds as much to the ambience of the place as the decor. Throw in a properly pulled pint of Guinness (one of 19 beers on tap at Ballymor), and you might just find yourself thinking you've stumbled across that pot of gold after all.


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