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St. James's Gate Publick House
167 Maplewood Avenue
Maplewood, Essex County, New Jersey
(973) 378-2222

By 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 extra).

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
Hours: Mon - Sun, 11:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Smoking: Separate nonsmoking section
Reservations: Not accepted
Parking: Street Parking and nearby municipal lots
Alcohol: License
Price: Inexpensive/Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes

Web Site: www.stjamesgatepub.com

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