By Molly Dunn
By Catherine Gillespie
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Mai Pham
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
As I wolfed my supper, I was thinking about how clueless the customers were; a bunch were drinking bourbon and Cokes or white wine. The rest seemed to be asking for frozen margaritas. Obviously nobody really got the concept here. Or, on second thought, maybe frozen margaritas were just the thing to drink at an Irish pub in Houston. They are sort of green.
My cynical train of thought was derailed by a young man with a dark complexion who sat down beside me. I guessed he might be Indian. But when he turned his head and I considered the hawkish curve of his nose, I wondered if he might not be South American. Finally I struck up a conversation with him. His name was Raj Shah, and he had just moved here from Chicago to work on a software project, he said. I asked him why a young Indian software guru would choose to hang out in an Irish pub.
"Homesick, I guess," he said.
Glenroe Farmhouse breakfast: $9.01
Whiskey-barbecued Atlantic salmon salad: $8.32
Shanagarry Farmhouse chicken potpie: $7.86
Steak-and-Guinness pie: $7.63
Murphy's amber-battered fish and chips: $8.09
Pint of half-and-half: $5
Irish lamb stew: $9.01
Shepherd's pie: $7.40
Raj explained that he was born in Killarney. His family has lived in Ireland for five generations. His grandfather was in the clothing business. Raj's father was the first generation to go to college. His father is now a patent attorney, and his mother a psychiatrist back in Killarney. Our conversation doused the flames of my cynicism and put me back in my place. Who was I to judge? Raj Shah is a lot more Irish than I will ever be. And he likes Slainte just fine.
The second time I visited Slainte, there were a lot of men in kilts drinking at the bar. I ordered the Irish lamb stew, served in a hollowed-out round loaf of bread, and my dining companion, Fort Worth writer Christina Patowski, had the Shanagarry Farmhouse chicken potpie. The stew was dull. It needed a lot of mustard and thyme or some other seasonings to bring it out of its torpor. But the chicken potpie was sensational. I convinced Christina to turn it over so the top crust was on the plate and the filling ran all over. We used the buttery pieces of pastry shell to sop up the sumptuous filling of cream and tender chicken. In the process of having "a little taste," I believe I ate at least half of poor Christina's dinner. The green beans served on the side of the potpie were perfectly cooked and nicely seasoned, and the spuds weren't bad either.
Meanwhile, more guys with kilts filed into the pub. A guy in a kilt inspires one of two reactions in me: If he has no particular reason to wear the garment, I judge he's a flake. But if he has a good reason, like the kilt is part of the uniform of some Scottish regiment or marching bagpipe band, then I think he's cool. Don't ask me why I think this way; it's a very complicated guy thing.
The men in kilts at Slainte proved to be members of a group called the Loch Dhu Dancers who perform occasionally in the back room to the strains of live Celtic music. The group, which includes an equal number of men and women, is named after its favorite whiskey. They started out by following bagpipers around Renaissance festivals, dancing jigs and reels for their own amusement. Eventually they formed a troupe and learned some authentic Celtic dances. The group now includes an award-winning Irish step dancer.
The jury was still out on the cool-versus-flaky question until I discovered that the Loch Dhu Dancers were being paid for their performance. This put the kilted men clearly into the cool category. It's one thing to prance around a phony Irish pub in a kilt; it's quite another thing to get paid for it. But on the other hand, the fact that Slainte is hiring Celtic dancers brings us back to the Epcot Center problem: Would a pub in Ireland pay somebody to jig around in a kilt? I don't think so.
In the end, it seems both marvelous and stupid that every stool, barrel and dusty book in Slainte was brought over from Ireland. Marvelous, in that the dark wooden snugs, the old Guinness signs, and the empty yellow-and-black boxes of Jacob's Cream Crackers really do transport you in spirit to the auld sod. And stupid in that $1.2 million is roughly enough to build a swell bar and have change left over to buy a round of drinks for everybody at Enron Field. But hey, I didn't pay the bill.
On the subject of food, there can be little doubt that Slainte remains downtown's best-kept secret. The breakfast makes an astounding lunch. The egg yolks are a delicate dipping sauce for the sweet yet savory slices of blood pudding, the cereal-filled, pork-flavored white pudding and the wonderfully dense soda-bread toast. The Irish bacon, which resembles Canadian bacon but in long strips, is smoky and crisp. The golden fish and piping hot chips, served with a shaker bottle of malt vinegar, are delightful. The chicken potpie is the best I've ever had, and I didn't even get around to the shepherd's pie, the whiskey-barbecued Atlantic salmon salad or the steak-and-Guinness pie. Granted, the aroma of stale ale takes a little getting used to.