Irish in Orlando with Smoking Prohibited

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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.

    Having indulged in my fair share of cottage pies at Jimmy Mulvaney’s charming, unpretentious Irish boozer Claddagh Cottage, I was more than a little intrigued when word came that the pub owner (along with wife Kathy and food-service veterans Lisa and Rick Boyd) had taken over Scruffy Murphy’s once-future home to open an upscale gastropub fronted by a cordon bleu chef. Given Mulvaney’s deft skills as a bar proprietor, I was less concerned about the “pub” than I was the “gastro,” but as it turned out, the kitchen ultimately held up its end of the deal.

    The “gastro,” it should be noted, is segregated from the “pub” next door and showcases Mulvaney’s skills as master artisan. Not only did he lay down the hardwood floors and take care of the wiring, Mulvaney junky-to-funkied the wooden desks left behind by the previous tenants and transformed them into beautifully crafted (if slightly upright) seating booths done in a rustic 1900s-era style. The quaint interior, with its low ceiling and exposed piping, is reminiscent of Claddagh Cottage, only decidedly classier and, at least on this Saturday evening, significantly quieter. If it weren’t for the catchy riff of “Day Tripper” and other Beatles classics being piped over the sound system, I’d likely be able to make out conversations in the kitchen. As a result, an unrivaled level of personalized service prevailed which, at times, bordered on intrusive, but it was understandable given the dearth of patrons.

    And given chef Cody Patterson’s blue ribbon status, the menu, understandably, leans heavily on French cuisine. I was hoping for Irish soda bread inside the complimentary carb basket, but no such luck. Instead, it was beef and barley soup ($4) that offered a small taste of the Emerald Isle with its generous mélange of carrots, corn, green beans, peas and potatoes. Too bad the beef was lacking, and the few miniature morsels I did manage to sift out were ground, not cubed.

    “Stop light prawns” ($9), so named because the trio of accompanying sauces resemble a stoplight, fared a little better. The fried plump curls were a smidgen greasy, but a dip into the olfactory-retarding wasabi mayo sauce proved to be the ultimate redeemer, while sweet mango chutney and zesty cocktail sauce were just as exceptional.

    The Harp house salad ($4) left me wanting more – more brie, to be exact. The one negligible piece of warm soft cheese is a cruel addition to the mix of tomatoes, field greens, red onions and croutons. After all, no fromage-lover could eat just one small bite of brie; I’d rather they serve a significant slab of cheese with a berry compote, and let the greens be an adjunct to the dish, even if it meant an increase in price.

    The two entrees I sampled were, conversely, flawless. Lamb persillade ($22) featured two racks of two chops each rubbed with honey mustard and rosemary, grilled, then roasted for a crisp finish. Creamy saffron risotto and grilled zucchini were ideal sides, but gnawing the utterly luscious flesh off the bone was what made this dish a truly enjoyable feast. The 10-ounce Angus beef filet ($33) was a tad overdone, but a superbly flavorful and prodigious cut nonetheless.

    Desserts aren’t prepared in-house as yet, but don’t let that prevent you from indulging in the fabulous chocolate bombe ($6). The dome-shaped confection envelops airy dark and white chocolate mousse and rich chocolate ganache. Call me picky, but I didn’t care much for the raspberry drizzle, nor did I care much for the key lime pie ($4) which

    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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