Irish in Winter Park Area

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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."

    Don't expect the warm, quirky architectural vibes that seem to go along with Irish pubs when you visit newly opened An Tobar (which means "the well" in Gaelic). It's built into the side of the Sheraton Orlando North in the office-complex jungle near the I-4 Maitland exchange. (If you're approaching from Lake Destiny Drive, you'll see the hotel before you see the pub.)

    But by no means is this establishment a Bennigan's-style watering hole strung with green paper shamrocks. In fact, two dozen Irish craftsmen were flown in to work on the relatively upscale project. The result is a series of design vignettes that are welcoming and relaxing.

    The entrance is inspired by a Dublin streetscape, with mock Victorian shop fronts and a real Irish green "telefon" booth. Inside, the seating areas include a "library" of leather volumes and portraits of Yeats and Wilde. The "Victorian railway" area has old-fashioned luggage and travel paraphernalia; and the "Victorian snug" sanctuary recalls the days when women smoked in secret. An occasional seanachaoi (storyteller) invites people to gather around the fireplace, and the two-story bar is a great spot to sip a Bass ale while listening to acoustic musicians.

    Some items on the menu might sound arcane but are actually fairly basic comfort food. "Boxty" ($7.95) is a traditional peasant dish – a fried potato pancake capped with meats and vegetables. The "Irish breakfast" ($8.95) is substantial enough for dinner, with rashers (bacon), sausage and pudding, as well as fried eggs, tomato, baked beans and soda bread. Potato leek soup ($3.50) is served in an Irish soda-bread bowl, and the shepherd's pie ($9.25) is layered with beef, onions and mashed potatoes.

    There's nothing particularly Irish about other items except their names: Fried onion rings are dubbed "Tobar oglalla," and "Galway wings" come with familiar blue-cheese dressing.

    We started off with "potato skins from Tobar Naomh Sean" ($4.25), which came topped with bacon, corned beef and Swiss cheese. They were enticingly tender beneath their crisp edges. Large wedges of "Gaelic fries" were speckled with herbs and offered with a splash of malt vinegar. "Shannon salmon" ($12.95) is bright and juicy, soaked with lemon-dill butter. It's presented simply with tender "red bliss" potatoes and vegetables. And the "cottage pie" ($9.50) is a homey casserole of chicken, carrots, sweet peas and onions in a rich sauce, topped with mashed potatoes.

    The bar offers the usual suspects: Guinness, Harp, shots of Bushmill's whiskey. An Tobar's combination of able service, a full dinner menu and professional setting makes for an ambitious step up from most other local Irish pubs.



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