Reviewing an Irish pub in the North End? Clearly we are running against the percentages here. I was, however, intrigued by the menu, which has quite a lot of real Irish food and several dishes that appear to be something new for Boston: “Irish fusion.” I also thought there was a chance, since the owners had previously done a credible tapas bar (Brighton’s Tasca), that this was going to be one of those new-wave Irish bars with good food. It is.
To get the name out of the way, Ann Glover was an Irish servant hanged as a witch in 1688. She may well have been suffering from dementia, since in the course of her imprisonment and trial she lost the ability to speak English, and responded, if at all, in what her judge (Cotton Mather!) described as the Irish language. Although no account survives of the hanging, a witness to the trial described it in terms that could be translated to resemble the atmosphere of Saddam Hussein’s.
A plaque outside the restaurant describes Glover as a Catholic martyr, but the gothic-Celtic décor inside works better with the witch theme and makes a surprisingly cozy pub out of two narrow, difficult rooms on two floors. The mixture of electric light and iron candlesticks could be creepy, but I found it warm and comfortable. Dark wood and ragged yellow paint on the walls complete the effect; plus, a pretty green stained-glass skylight on the top floor is lovely. Our wobbly café table also inspired pub nostalgia, although my daughter thought it was infuriating. The young and impatient might bring their own wedges.
What I mean by Irish fusion food is something like “crispy egg rolls of corned beef, cabbage, and Swiss cheese with a whole grain mustard sauce” ($6.95). They weren’t all that crisp, but they were quite good, and the switch to Euro-cabbage and corned beef from Chinese cabbage and ham is pretty reasonable. Then you have three mini lamb burgers ($6.95), the same sort of small plate of burgers we see all over, but with even blander rolls and a hint of lamb flavor to the patties. Great eating.
I was alarmed at the idea of a “blackened chicken quesadilla” ($6.95), but it wasn’t blackened at all. In fact, the folded-over wheat tortilla wasn’t even browned much. The Cajun reference is to some hot spices inside, nicely modulated with the traditional Cal-Mex trimmings of guacamole, sour cream, and fresh salsa. Island-spiced chicken wings ($6.95) actually have no reference to the Emerald Isle, but are sort of mild Caribbean Buffalo wings with a candied pineapple salsa for contrast. Memo to chefs: if you want to serve all two-bone wing pieces, teach the prep cooks to trim the fat off each side.
The salad of field greens ($4.95) is a good blend at an attractive price, but the fusion dressing (“whiskey vinaigrette”) doesn’t cut it. All other appetizers are $6.95, and most entrées are $11.95. The fusion item on the entrée list is “steamed potato and cheddar dumplings” ($11.95). I think the intended fusion is Irish-Italian, as the dumplings are large, round ravioli. The initial trimmings on this dish — cabbage, onions, and peas — have since been simplified in favor of a kind of Newburg creamy tomato sauce. Hey, pierogi in tomato soup — what could be finer?
Shepherd’s pie ($11.95) is a traditional version, maybe a little soupier, but full of ground lamb, cut-up carrots, and a nice herbal gravy; the whole is topped with mashed potatoes and served in a kind of round baking dish, likely a leftover cazuela from Tasca. A side order of colcannon ($3.50) comes in a smaller cazuela, and is nicely flavored with cabbage and onions but is perhaps a little sticky from over blending. In general, most of our dishes came with garlic mashed potatoes that were somewhat lean and watery.
Given weak potatoes, you want something like the sirloin steak ($14.95), especially in the green-peppercorn-whiskey sauce. Done medium-rare as ordered, it was highly flavorful and carried the mashed potatoes right along. So did a lamb shank ($11.95), braised in red wine and herbs, with a few vegetables. Another good entrée was “blackened halibut” ($11.95). This wasn’t exactly pan-blackened either, but the singed Cajun spice mix on top of a nice, light filet was excellent.
The draught Guinness ($3.33) was smooth and clean. That may be all the serious Irish-pub connoisseur needs to know. If you think Guinness is too heavy for food, there is a short but interesting wine list. A glass of the 2005 Casillero del Diablo merlot ($7/glass; $25/bottle) was rather soft, with a little alcohol showing through. This is usually a pretty useful Chilean wine with food, so maybe it will develop more complexity with a few more months’ age.
Following frequent North End custom, Goody Glover’s has no desserts — or maybe it’s a protest against the unjust desserts visited upon Goodwife Glover more than three centuries ago. There are always the pastry and espresso shops of Hanover Street, so this is no great handicap. And the combination of Irish food and Guinness is rather filling. It’s hard to imagine actually choosing to eat Irish food so close to the fine Italian restaurants of the North End, but Goody Glover’s makes a very credible menu of it, and at unusually attractive prices.
Service was good on a deserted weeknight. Given some tight spaces, it could get slowed down with a big crowd, perhaps for a Boston Garden event. The tight spaces, which may have contributed to the death of several previous restaurants in this location, evoke a country pub in the heart of the city. The second-floor dining room has been waiting for about 10 years to have a great view. It used to look out at the Expressway, then Big Dig construction, and now looks across more construction (which will be the Greenway) to the Parcel 7 Garage over Haymarket station.
Goody Glover’s, 50 Salem Street, Boston | Open Mon-Fri, noon-1 am; and sat & sun, 11 am-1 am | AE, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Validated parking $1 per hour at parcel 7 garage; validation expires after three hours | Sidewalk-level access via elevator to second floor | 617.367.6444
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