Dining Review

Two local sports pubs find a way to distinguish themselves

CorrespondentOctober 18, 2012 

  • JD’s Tavern 800 W. Williams St., Apex 919-629-7285 www.jdstavern.com Mahoney’s Pub 6490 Tryon Road, Cary 919-322-2509 www.mahoneyspubcary.com 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.

Family-friendly sports pubs were little more than a blip on the radar screen of restaurant categories just a decade ago. Now they’re everywhere, giving national chains like Applebee’s and Chili’s competition for a slice of the suburban household-budget pie.

Inevitably, though, success breeds imitation. Whether it’s fried pickles or a selection of local beers on tap, a proven best-seller at one pub quickly becomes obligatory at the rest. Even locally owned pubs are, with few exceptions, nearly as indistinguishable from one another as those national chains.

JD’s Tavern and Mahoney’s Pub are two of the exceptions. Not that either offers any groundbreaking changes in style or menu, though each can claim a few distinctive dishes.

What sets these two pubs apart from the crowd is something more intangible – a hint of the old-fashioned corner tavern behind all those flat-screen TVs.

Maybe it’s the fact that both are smaller than the typical sports pub, or maybe it’s the friendliness of the servers. Then again, it just might have something to do with the fact that the owners’ names (or in the case of JD’s, initials) are on the door.

JD’s Tavern

JD’s is named for owners Jim Mallon and Dave Yoder, whose friendship goes back decades to their high school days in Ohio. It isn’t surprising, then, that the menu’s strong suit is hearty middle-American fare.

The signature patty melt, made with a hefty 9-ounce piece of beef grilled to order, is served on marbled rye and topped with grilled onions and a lava flow of molten American and Swiss cheeses. Get it with a side of onion rings, which are cut and battered in-house and fried to a crunchy, not-too-greasy turn. And – why not? – round it all off with an old-fashioned milkshake.

Chicken wings deserve their description as “jumbo” and are available in classic fried and trendy grilled versions. Either way, they deliver the goods.

So do fish and chips, which features pollock in a Yuengling beer batter crust that comes closer than most to the mark. You won’t even mind that the “chips” are in fact standard American seasoned fries.

The menu occasionally ventures into more, um, exotic territory such as Sweet and Spicy Shrimp (Cajun-spiced, served with a sweet chili sauce and fresh basil) and Hawaiian chicken sandwich. An entree of sautéed tilapia with sun-dried tomatoes and feta (a summertime offering no longer on the menu) was a disappointment. Bacon- and cheese-stuffed jalapeño poppers came closer to the mark.

Still, I’d say a good rule of thumb when ordering at JD’s Tavern is: Stick to the middle of the road. And if that road runs through Ohio, so much the better.

Mahoney’s Pub

If the name has you thinking that Mahoney’s is an Irish pub, you’re only part right. Sure, there’s an Erin Go Bragh flag over the bar, and a couple of neon shamrocks on the wall. There might even be a game of darts in progress or Irish folk tunes playing in the background.

By and large, though, cliches are kept to a minimum at Mahoney’s, where the ambience is as much American neighborhood sports bar as it is Irish pub.

The menu is likewise a melting pot of Old World and New. You’ll find most of the usual pub nosh suspects, from burger to Buffalo wings, as well as a wide assortment of sandwiches. Corned beef on rye, if you’re feeling Irish, or Kilkenny hot brown (sliced turkey with tomato and bacon, served open-faced under a blanket of Mornay sauce). Or cross the Atlantic for a shrimp po’ boy or a Carolina crab-cake sandwich with Old Bay rémoulade.

Even some of the ostensibly Irish dishes under the Signature Entrees heading turn out to be more Irish-American. Fish and chips are made with swai, a mild white fish that’s not at all traditional, but as it turns out is up to the task. And the chips are house-fried thick American-style potato chips. Still, if you’re not a stickler for authenticity, it’s a worthy option.

So is the shepherd’s pie, with a richly savory filling of ground beef (and, surprisingly, more corn than any other vegetable) under a thick layer of mashed potatoes. If the potatoes had been sufficiently browned when I ordered the dish, it would have been even better.

Mahoney’s is owned by Dennis Mahoney, who also owns Mac’s Tavern, and his sister, Sheila Ryan. The siblings grew up in New York, and have fond memories of the Irish pub that their uncle ran for some 25 years in Greenwich, Connecticut. You might say they were born with Guinness in their veins.

But clearly they’re not averse to an infusion of local brew.

ggcox@bellsouth.net or blogs@newsobserver.com/mouthful

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