When Michael Patrick Doherty reincarnated Connolly’s Irish Pub as Doherty’s last October, he gave the place a makeover to go with the new name. The space is more open and inviting now, though the decor leaves no doubt that this still an Irish pub.
Cozy high-backed booths with stained glass partitions (and coat hooks, a classic touch) are a given. So are walls covered with vintage maps and prints, dark woodwork, and shelves laden with old books and bric-a-brac.
Look closely, though, and you’ll discover clues that Doherty’s is by no means a cookie-cutter operation. Indeed, the place boasts a pedigree that other Irish pubs can only envy.
Those framed liquor licenses on the wall just inside the entrance? They belonged to Doherty’s immigrant grandfather, Michael Patrick Connolly, whose eponymous pub flourished over half a century ago in New York. The military medals and folded American flag on the brick wall behind the mahogany bar? Souvenirs of Connolly’s Navy career.
Doherty followed in his grandfather’s footsteps, coming to America as a 21-year-old and working for several years in the famous Dubliner Pub in Washington, D.C. After relocating to the Triangle, he was a partner in Tir na nOg before opening Connolly’s in Cary in 1999. He sold his interest in that restaurant seven years ago to spend more time with his family.
News of Connolly’s closing last year rekindled the pub-keeper flame in Doherty.
And while the pub that now bears his name is clearly another tribute to his Connolly heritage, it is in every respect a step forward.
That includes the food, a mix of Irish pub classics and contemporary fare. Guinness-braised brisket nachos, which substitutes potato chips for tortilla chips, then tops them with juicy shreds of beef, melted cheddar, diced tomato and horseradish sauce, is a delightful introduction.
So is the boxty sampler, another shareable starter that serves up a trio of crepe-like Irish potato pancakes, each with a different filling: chicken with bechamel and basil, marinated portabellas with roasted red peppers and herbed cream cheese, and Guinness-braised brisket with mushrooms and caramelized onions.
On the traditional side of the ledger, you’ll find the usual suspects. But they’re by no means usual in terms of execution, whether you opt for authentically delicate bangers and mash or shepherd’s pie with such a savory filling and well-browned mashed potato crust you won’t be inclined to fault it for being made with ground beef instead of lamb.
Nor will you quibble about the “chips” in the fish and chips, which are actually house-cut skin-on fries, but are addictively crisp. Especially once you’ve tasted beer-battered fish that’s as close to the real thing as you’ll find in these parts.
Cider and whiskey-glazed salmon, served over sautéed spinach and a scallion- and cheddar-laced potato cake, is another keeper.
Even the vegetable of the day that accompanies some entrees – snap-tender whole green beans on one recent occasion, Brussels sprouts on another – are clearly more than just an afterthought.
Doherty’s corns its own beef, which is offered in a number of forms, from grilled Reuben sandwich to the classic corned beef and cabbage. I’m especially partial to the corned beef hash on the breakfast menu. And by partial, I mean that even when I order the traditional Irish breakfast – a groaning board of bangers, Irish bacon rashers, two eggs (sunny side up for me), sautéed mushrooms, grilled tomato, potato hash, brown bread and Irish baked beans - even then, I’ll order a side of the corned beef hash. Trust me, this is not your run-of-the-mill diner hash.
Bread pudding is just OK, nothing special. Same goes for a 10-ounce prime rib, a Thursday night special and, at $19.95, five dollars more expensive than anything else on the menu. Even minor disappointments such as these are, in my experience, infrequent.
You’re not likely to suffer many letdowns from the friendly and attentive wait staff, either, who take their cue from Doherty’s affable partner and general manager, Sami Taweel. Add a family-friendly attitude and a well-tended bar, and you’ve pretty much got the essence of an Irish pub. No doubt Michael Doherty’s grandfather would be proud.
NOTE: Doherty’s will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day Friday through Sunday. Festivities will include live music each day and parking lot parties on Saturday and Sunday. The full menu will be offered Friday and Saturday, and an abbreviated offering on Sunday.
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