Irish in Orlando with Games

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    I wasn't thrilled with the prospect of eating an entire meal at a pub. Past experiences with pub grub – here and abroad – led me to believe that "authentic" doesn't necessarily mean "great." But the proprietors of Fiddler's Green prove that a focus on flavor, presentation and service can spell "gourmet" for traditional Irish cuisine.

    The restaurant retains the cozy atmosphere of its predecessors, Mulvaney's and Prince of Wales. It's got the same ornate woodwork, dart boards, Irish-themed knickknacks and entertainment stage. Now, there's a separate dining room that's upscale and intimate in a country-inn sort of way.

    Fiddler's Green offers a full selection of draft ales, lagers and stouts, which you can order by the pint or half-pint. While my guest and I waited, our server brought us a basket of thick, crumbly scones, which nicely offset the beer.

    We split an order of lightly browned potato pancakes with grated cheddar and scallions ($6.50; $5.95) topped with smoked salmon or sour cream and chives. Other appetizers include steamed mussels ($7.50) and smoked fish spread ($5.50). Dieters will be glad to know that the menu also includes your basic salad assortment.

    Along with a variety of sandwiches and burgers ($5.25-$8.95), Fiddler's entrees include standbys like corned beef and cabbage ($9.95); fish and chips, and "bangers and mash" (both $8.95). Among the more gourmet fare: grilled salmon with champagne sauce ($14.95) and roast duck ($15.95).

    I ordered the "Hen in a Pot" ($7.95), a scrumptious variation on chicken pot pie. Instead of pie crust, the "pot" was topped, hat-like, with a flaky pastry. The stew below was piping hot with big chunks of tender chicken and vegetables, seasoned just right.

    My companion stuck with another basic-but-hearty dish, Irish stew ($9.95). Once again, the seasonings – thyme, in this case – made this dish a standout. Presentation of both entrees was excellent, with extras like huge plates, fresh herbs and doilies. Desserts include bread and butter pudding, and blackberry/apple crumble ($3.95-$4.50). We were way too full to sample them.

    Great service and excellent food mean Fiddler's Green is not like most Irish pubs; it's better.

    Paddy McGee's, which is located in the beautiful city of Winter Park, prides itself on upholding Irish tradition with an American flair. Once you experience Paddy McGee's, you will realize why it is referred to as "your neighborhood bar."

    I've always considered Irish food to be similar to British food in the sense that it's something you eat because you're already at the pub, have had a few pints and don't feel like driving somewhere else to get a real meal. So it's bangers and mash, maybe a shepherd's pie, to soak up the hooch and settle the stomach; not bad, but not stellar. It'll do.

    Now that I have been to Raglan Road, an Irish pub and restaurant at Disney's Pleasure Island, however, I'm going to have to reconsider that assessment. Their Irish fare is tasty enough to entice a teetotaler into a pub, and I now understand that there is no excuse for mediocre Irish food.

    My expectations of the place, frankly, were low. Given the location, I assumed they were slinging the same old Emerald Isle standards at the tourists and doubling the prices. Surely the menu would be nothing but boiled this and cabbage that, heavy on the corned beef and a crock of stew on the side.

    But once inside the place, I quickly sensed that it was not a typical Americanized Irish pub, and it turned out that it wasn't. While walking back to our table after a short wait, the chatty hostess informed us that the room we were dining in was actually an Irish estate house, disassembled there and shipped here piece by piece. The furniture is all antique, and the framed photos hanging on the dark wooden walls are authentic. The result is an amazingly cozy atmosphere for such a large restaurant.

    We started with an appetizer named "Smokie City" ($10.95) which sounded sketchy ("oven baked layers of smoked cod with mature Wexford cheddar and double cream") but turned out to be brilliant. The smoked cod, dense and lovely, was offset perfectly by the tangy cheddar sauce in which it swam. We lapped up every bite, smearing it like a spread on large slices of crusty sourdough, then turned the crock over to get the last few drops.

    Entree No. 1 was "Planxty" ($19.95), a dish that I ordered because I liked the name. What I got was roast pork shank poking up out of a bed of mashed potatoes, with a side of apple chutney. About that roast pork: When the meat falls off the bone before you can get it on the fork, it's tender. And this was tender. The chutney added a note of sweetness, and the potatoes were nice and lumpy, so no complaints at all. It was a very satisfying dish.

    Entree No. 2, "It's Not Bleedin' Chowder," was similarly expensive ($19.95) and just as good. The name is supposedly a quote from the chef when he was asked exactly what the dish was, which is a rich mix of scallops, fish, mussels and prawns, mixed in a white wine sauce infused with saffron and finished with cream. At that price it better not be bleedin' chowder, and it better not look like anything that came out of a can. It wasn't, and it didn't. The seafood was fresh, the sauce was tangy and lively, and I can't recall having tasted a better fish stew, if you can call it that.

    The only item that disappointed was the bowl of "Down the Middle" ($5.50), a hearty but bland tomato and vegetable broth soup. That was for the vegetarian in the family, because there wasn't much else on the menu she could eat.

    Dessert, which took almost 20 minutes to get to the table for some reason, was "Ger's Bread & Butter Pudding" ($7.99). I'm not much of a bread pudding fan, which is exactly why I ordered it. So far the meal had exceeded all my expectations. Would dessert disappoint? Not a chance. Ger, whoever he/she may be, has concocted a heavenly bread pudding. It comes out in a warm crock with tiny pitchers of butter and butterscotch that you add yourself, as much or as little as you like. The sourdough bread soaks it up, and you get a raisin-infused mush that's sweet, rich and cinnamony. Once again I upended the serving dish to coax out the last drop.

    This being Disney, there's entertainment in the form of table dancing and an Irish band. But that's just dressing. This is a pub you can come into for dinner, and maybe hang around to grab a Guinness or two or three.

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