THE PRICE IS RIGHT: Try the $16.95 Montreal rib eye, an 18-ounce bargain.
Getting tired of reading about $40 steaks, $60 steaks, $120 Japanese Wagyu beef steaks? How would you like the $16.95, 18-ounce Montreal rib eye at the Galway House? I liked it a lot, and I also liked the fried scallops ($14.95), clam roll ($8.95), clam chowder ($3.95), and cappuccino-mousse cake ($3.95). The draft special is $2.50 and whistle-clean. And these ’50s and ’60s specialties at ’80s prices are just plain terrific. Unfortunately, everything else at the Galway House also dates back to the ’50s. Sure, you don’t have to have put up with any postmodern, retro-chic sophistication, but you do have to put up with tasteless white bread, pink tomatoes in the salad, peas and carrots steamed to death, French fries that merely dilute the taste of ketchup, and all that other stuff Julia Child drove to the brink of extinction.
Galway House | 720 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain | Open Mon–Sat, 11:30 am–11 pm; and sun, 1–9 pm | AE, MC, VI | Full bar | No valet parking | Access up one step from sidewalk level | 617.524.9677
While it’s still possible to find local bar-restaurants similar to this, with meaty specialties and big, cheap food, most have been pushed to the distant edges of Newton and have some bistro incursions. The Galway House is almost pristine. Granted, it has flat-screen TVs, but they still have sound. If one is tuned to The Simpsons and the next has Monday Night Football, the dialogue gets mixed up. At night they play rock music, too, so “Sympathy for the Devil” dukes it out with Homer and John Madden. This can make for an odd mix, but it works. Despite the Irish name (and excellent draft Guinness), you’ll see more of JP’s diversity at the Galway House than in the trendier places on the other side of Centre Street.
One of the keys to Galway’s success seems to be its long-time employees. Servers here have been putting out Montreal steaks for decades. And a recent change of ownership merely transferred the licenses to the 20-year cook. Also, the non-smoking rule changed this from a restaurant in which yuppies couldn’t breathe (and therefore could not influence) to one that is open to everyone. The smell without cigarettes, though, is kind of empty, like a house that has been vacant awhile.
My recommendation for appetizers would be to go for the fried ones and remember that it’s the ’50s, so salads are for horses. We tried some homemade kale soup ($2.95); it had couscous instead of linguica and was too salty, but homemade it was. Chicken-noodle soup ($2.95)? Not worth it. You couldn’t make soup this weak out of a can or mix. Clam chowder, however, is a solid effort and tastes just like it did when I had a lot more taste buds. All soups are served in a small tea mug.
There’s a long menu of sandwiches, club sandwiches, and burgers, all likely pretty good. The one I had was a special on a clam roll, which was loaded with fresh belly clams — a seafood that can’t be faked — fried crisp and not too greasy. You could pay $25 for this in certain toney establishments and it wouldn’t be a bit better. Well, maybe the tartar sauce would be better. Steak fries, too, since they always suffer in a small kitchen that fries fish (at lower temperatures). But the cole slaw wouldn’t be, and they wouldn’t give you pickle chips and a small green apple.
Dinners are even larger and come with a choice of two sides. Your options include a mashed butternut squash with maple sweetening; a decent baked potato (with portion-control sour cream); plain steamed broccoli; overdone peas and carrots; a salad with a few modern leaves and red-onion rings, but that dreadful slice of tomato and another of cucumber; and baked rice so bland I’m not sure that kids would eat it.
You can enjoy the squash and the potato, or even the salad, because you have a Montreal rib eye, a huge boneless entrecôte done to order with a coating of cracked pepper. (Or you can spend another dollar and get the 24-ounce porterhouse.) For $11.95 — this is not a typographical error — you can also have the sirloin tips with onions and green peppers. They aren’t amazing sirloin tips, but they’re close enough. A wild swordfish special ($15.95) was not as good as the steak, but still very good and very large.
Pasta isn’t served al dente, but it’s large and well flavored. I tested a pasta carbonara ($12.95) made with gemelli (double-helix shaped) instead of the usual spaghetti. The egg doesn’t stick well to the larger pasta, but the bacon and peas provide the classic flavors, and the portion feeds four.