St. James's Gate Publick House
167 Maplewood Avenue
Maplewood, Essex County, New Jersey
The Artful Diner
March 14, 2005
Yes, it's all here: hefty hardwood floors fashioned from recycled
Guinness barrels, roaring fireplace, brawny wooden tables and chairs imported
from the Emerald Isle, live Gaelic music (Thursdays and Sundays), a beautiful
antique bar snared on eBay, and a convivial cross section of colorful local
characters. The quintessential Irish pub. You can picture The Quiet Man
(John Wayne) bellying up to the bar.
St. James's Gate Publick House, however, has infinitely more going
for it than ambiance. The food -- while hale and hearty, to be sure -- is very,
very good and served up in appetite-busting proportions. So don't be shy about
"hop scotching" your way through the menu; no matter where your taste
buds finally alight, they are certain to be thoroughly appeased.
But first, a libation... If you really want to get into the spirit, start
things off with a pint of Guinness or, perhaps, Harp or Smithwicks (all $4.25).
On the other hand, if you'd prefer to cast your lot with the fruit of the vine,
there are some solid selections available by both the glass and the bottle. Hess
Select of California, for example, puts forth an eminently satisfying
chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. The tangy Brancott Sauvignon Blanc is also
recommended, as are Pepperwood Grove's Pinot Noir and Wildhorse's Cabernet (all
$7.00 glass/$26.00 bottle).
When the time comes to consult the bill of fare, bear in mind that
appetizers are particularly prodigious. Should you be dining with a group, it
makes good gastronomic sense to order several, allowing members of your party
the freedom to mix and match. The house-cured Galway salmon ($8.50) is a real
winner and at the very top of my hit list. Mild of flavor and silky of
countenance, it is adorned with a lattice work of crème fraîche,
sprinkling of capers and diced red onions, and stack of toast points.
"La's Crock of Cheese" ($5.95) -- a ramekin of creamy cheddar
flanked by a phalanx of crackers, diced onions, and pool of hot mustard -- is
certainly a starter that lends itself to sharing... as does a nightly special,
the not-too-garlicky mound of hummus accompanied by pita triangles and thick
cucumber slices ($4.95).
Public House "Chips" are listed as a starter; however, they
also accompany the "Fish and Chips" ($12.75) and "Irish
Breakfast" ($11.75). But whether ordered as an appetizer ($5.25) or side
($2.99), they are definitely worth the added expenditure. I say this, not only
because the regular fries are strictly standard issue, but also because the Public
House "Chips" are incomparably delicious. Hand-cut and served
with malt vinegar and Marie Rose sauce (mayo, ketchup, and seasonings), they
are, without doubt, the sine qua non of your St. James's sojourn.
And don't forget to check out the marvelously satisfying soups
($2.95/$4.95); a creamy potato leek; and, most recently, a special roasted
tomato soup, brilliant of color and intense of flavor. Other prelude
possibilities include Celtic wings with bleu cheese dip ($7.25), Bantry Bay
mussels with spicy sausage ($7.95), and Donegal chicken tenders ($6.75).
Main courses offer a variety of options. Among the traditional Irish dishes,
the shepherd's pie ($12.95) is outstanding. Served en casserole, the
rich brown gravy is awash with perfectly cooked diced vegetables and ground
beef and crowned with a golden brown covering of sumptuous whipped potatoes.
But if you really want to blow the diet, go for the "Bangers and
Mash" ($11.95), links of traditional Irish pork sausage served with a
mountain of those same irresistible spuds.
The presentation of "Fish and Chips" ($12.75), though, is
something of a disappointment -- at least partially. Those marvelous Publick
House "Chips" are, of course, worth the price of admission. The
fish, on the other hand, is too heavily battered -- in one segment, all batter
and no filet in attendance -- and well, yes, rather... "fishy."
Other items, however, are right on the money. In the midst of all this
robust comfort cuisine, the Arctic char ($14.95), a daily special, clearly
demonstrates that the kitchen also possesses a strikingly sensitive and
sophisticated disposition. Two beautiful pan-seared skin-on filets are set on a
pillow of sautéed spinach and find appropriate partners in a delicate artichoke
pancake and exceptional green onion coulis.
And sandwiches are also up to the mark. Both the moist, tender steak strips
on focaccia bread ($11.25) and the Tipperary Reuben ($8.25) -- hot corned beef,
sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and Swiss cheese on grilled toast -- are
excellent choices for more casual chow-downs... ditto the turkey meatloaf
burger ($8.25), another daily special. Also on the docket are a number of beef
burgers: the St. James, topped with rashers (bacon) and cheddar ($7.50); the
Dublin, crowned with bleu cheese ($7.50); and the all-American, sporting
lettuce, tomato, and onion ($6.25; add cheddar, American, or Swiss, $1.00
One additional note... Many of the sandwiches, burgers, and daily specials
arrive garnished with Irish slaw, as well as the aforementioned generic fries.
If your selection happens to be bereft of the former, make certain you place an
order for a side ($2.99). Spiked with vinegar and seasonings, the shredded
cabbage is tumultuously and invigoratingly tangy.
Desserts, though all shipped in from off campus, are still quite good.
Especially recommended are the chocolate desire cake ($3.75) -- rich, dense,
and decadent -- and the New York-style cheesecake ($3.75). On the other hand,
why not go for the gold by treating yourself to the famous postprandial elixir
of the Emerald Isle: a potent and fortifying Irish coffee ($5.75)? A most fitting
last hurrah for any red-blooded Gaelic gastronome.
Cuisine: Irish/Pub Grub
Web Site: www.stjamesgatepub.com
Hours: Mon - Sun, 11:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Smoking: Separate nonsmoking section
Reservations: Not accepted
Parking: Street Parking and nearby municipal lots
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
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