The original Connolly's, an Irish pub in New York City founded by immigrant Michael Patrick Connolly, closed over half a century ago. When Connolly's namesake grandson, Michael Patrick Doherty, opened a pub of his own in 1999, it seemed natural to name it for his late grandfather. Much less of a given, however, was Doherty's choice of a location: a strip mall in suburban Cary.
In hindsight, the location turns out to have been inspired. Its affordable menu of Irish and American pub fare and its family-friendly atmosphere have proven so successful that Connolly's (1979 High House Road, in Cornerstone Shopping Center; 465-4458;
www.connollysirish.com ) has expanded into the adjoining space, roughly doubling in size.
The menu has evolved over the years but has kept the Irish pub classics, among them corned beef and cabbage, shepherd's pie and Irish beef stew. Boxty, Irish potato pancakes with filling options including chicken breast, portobello mushrooms, and Guinness-braised brisket, are still a popular choice and are available as an appetizer or entree.
Those in the mood for American fare choose from a selection that ranges from Buffalo wings to burgers.
According to the waiter, when my wife and I stopped in for dinner recently, Irish egg rolls were a relatively recent addition to the appetizers offering. I don't imagine they'll be coming off the menu any time soon, either. With a filling of lean corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese in crisp egg roll wrappers, these really hit the spot with a pint of Guinness.
The grilled salmon salad I ordered as an entree was attractively presented, with a border of cucumber slices and sprinkling of chopped pecans, but the fish was a bit dry. A piece of crunchy-battered Atlantic whitefish filet from my wife's generous order of fish and chips (which, by the way, are only $6.95 on Wednesdays) proved ample consolation. I snagged a few of her chips, too, which are authentically thick cut and fried to a crisp, light golden brown.
The expansion of the dining room hasn't detracted from Connolly's traditional Irish pub charm. High-backed booths, stained glass panels and vintage memorabilia from the original Connolly's still set a warmly nostalgic mood. The framed liquor licenses from the New York pub are 10 years older than they were when Doherty hung them here. I wouldn't be surprised to see them still hanging 10 years from now.