- 2319 Frankfort Avenue, Louisville, KY, 40206
- (502) 899-3544
- Overall User Rating:
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- Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
- Official Web Site:
So I’m at the bar, sipping a glass of Guinness, and suddenly fiddle music breaks out. It’s one of those reels that express the jauntier side of Irish music.
I look up from my cellphone (where else would I be looking?) and see four musicians sprawling in a booth that’s big enough to accommodate them and assorted instruments — like the bouzouki that’s just picked up the rhythm. After a few choruses, the music dwindles away, while folks in and around that booth chat each other up (and at least one voice has a thick Irish brogue).
A couple of minutes later, it’s a jig. Then another reel. It’s just a rehearsal, says the bartender.
But it sounds pretty fair to me.
Maybe this sort of thing happens all around the city, but I’ve only experienced it in one place: The Irish Rover. And it’s one of the things that set The Irish Rover apart from the city’s other Irish bars — places where the soundtrack is more likely to feature the Rolling Stones than, say, Christy Moore.
Alas, music doesn’t break out every night at the Rover; it’s an occasional thing (though there will certainly be music in abundance this weekend, which is, of course, in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day), but even when there are no fiddles, pennywhistles or bouzoukis to be heard, owners Michael and Siobhan Reidy maintain a homey Celtic feel via the long bar, big booths, generous seating (including one of the city’s finer patios), abundant wooden surfaces and enough Irish iconography to evoke happy dreams of the Emerald Isle.
The bar is stocked with spirits, a short, inexpensive wine list, and draft and bottled beers that hail not only from Ireland and other parts, but from some of Louisville’s own craftier breweries — and there’s much to be said for leaning against that bar, sipping a brew and biting into one of the most infamous bar snacks known to man: a Scotch egg (a hard-boiled egg wrapped round in sausage and finished in the deep fryer, $3.95).
In fact, chef Terrence Burbridge’s kitchen is at its best when doling out those sorts of blunt, straightforward dishes. More complicated dishes are often a bit of a mixed bag.
For instance, an entree called Dublin Smokies sounds pretty promising: a casserole made from smoked haddock, smoked salmon and sauteed shrimp, cooked with aromatics and paprika cream, and finished with melted Swiss cheese ($9.95). But on the plate it presents a pretty bleak countenance. Peel away the layer of Swiss and you’re confronted with ground-up pink fish that has a potent but one-note smokiness that crowds out everything else.
An order of lamb-stuffed cabbage ($12.95) is better: tightly rolled cylinders of cabbage stuffed with nicely seasoned ground lamb, drizzled with dark-hued red wine reduction and plated with champ — one of the glories of Irish cuisine: real mashed potatoes studded with green onions, as rich and creamy as a roomful of one percenters — and a lot more fun to be around.
Still, The Irish Rover is best as a purveyor of straightforward pleasures, like a salmon burger — a thick grilled salmon cake sauced with dill mayo ($7.95), or maybe just a Welsh Rabbit — an old-school grilled cheddar sandwich on sourdough with a nice brightly flavored dose of mustard ($6.95).
If you’re looking for a plate filled with tender green leaves, the Cashel salad — gorgeous leaves of Bibb lettuce dressed with walnuts and soft blue cheese from Ireland — is a winner, but the prescribed balsamic vinaigrette threatens to overpower the delicate greens, so I’d ask the kitchen whether it’s possible to substitute something a bit lighter, like the wonderful pear vinaigrette that comes with one of the restaurant’s best appetizers: the Blue Cheesecake ($6.95), a savory starter made by blending blue and cream cheeses and wrapping them in a crust of crushed walnuts. Spread that on slices of warm, brown soda bread and you’ll feel as good as if you’d won the Irish Sweepstakes.
From the fryer comes one of the best examples of fish and chips in the city — a thick, moist slab of beautifully battered cod that weighs in at 7-8 ounces (market price; lately it’s been hovering in the $9 range).
Desserts (all $4.95) are house-made and include sticky toffee pudding, Guinness chocolate cake, bread and butter pudding and the like. All those can lay claim to some slice of the Celtic heritage, but for my money the best bet might be a slab of cheesecake infused with a dose of Bailey’s Irish Cream.
E-mail freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at email@example.com.