My 11-year-old twins could eat potatoes every day. Fried, baked, mashed, hashed, roasted. They love spuds so much, I joke that our last name should be O'Morgan. So it wasn't hard to convince them to travel an hour to eat at an Irish pub — in Northfield.
There weren't many diners on our Thursday-night visit to the Knotty Shamrock — just a few families tucked into booths, a few couples seated at small tables and a few drinkers at the long, old-fashioned bar. The Shamrock is big on dark wood and dim lighting, with just the right amount of Irish kitsch, including carved-wood bathroom signs reading "Lads" and "Lassies."
My son fell in love with the place as soon as he pushed through the door and saw the TVs tuned in to the Arsenal versus Liverpool soccer match. When he found buffalo wings and French fries on the menu, he was in heaven.
My daughter, however, was nonplussed with both the entertainment and the menu. Every entrée that struck her fancy — cottage pie, Irish stew, chicken pot pie — included vegetables, ingredients she considers so offensive that no restaurant meal should ever contain them.
She grudgingly settled on the pot pie, tempted by the puff-pastry top. Because no Irish meal is complete without a potato, she ordered a side of fries. I chose the meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Because no Irish meal is complete without a beer, I ordered a 10-ounce Innis & Gunn on tap.
The food was just what you would expect of pub grub: warm and comforting, with just the right amount of salt and grease. My slab of meatloaf was smothered in a ketchup-based sauce, served on a mound of creamy skins-on mashers — maybe not traditionally Irish, but decadent and delicious. My son's wings — "hot, but not too hot" — were everything he had hoped for. He sucked off every morsel of meat and sauce.
My daughter perked up when she dunked the puff pastry into the creamy chicken gravy of her pot pie. She left most of the chicken and all of the veggies, but my son was happy to finish them, along with the remains of my meatloaf.
I would have finished every last French fry in the two baskets we ordered, but I restrained myself. Perfectly seasoned, they came straight from the fryer — not too soft and not too crisp — and were a revelation when dipped in the Shamrock's thick ranch dressing.
Our server, Samantha, turned a good visit into a great one. She delivered our food quickly, brought a stack of napkins with my son's basket of wings, made sure my daughter had enough dressing for her fries and didn't make us wait an eternity for our check. This is the kind of restaurant service I always hope for but rarely get.
The Knotty Shamrock isn't close enough to be our neighborhood pub — a shame, because it's everything such an establishment should be. But the next time I crave Irish food and drink with a side of soccer, we'll gladly make the drive.