An Gorta Mór, "the great hunger," ravaged Ireland of her people, laid a foundation for her modern politics and provided the catalyst for the mass emigration of her people.
In that seven year struggle (1845-1852), more than a million Irish died, food production plummeted and politicians struggled for solutions. It was a watershed event that fills volumes of history.
Today, 170 years in the future, I'm happy to report there is no shortage of Irish staples and Guinness runs like water from America's beer taps.
If it's Irish food you're after, then have a pint pulled and grab a seat at Kevin Barry's Irish Pub, arguably Savannah's most authentic Irish watering hole. It's as rough around the edges as any centuries-old Irish counterpart but that's part of the charm. The bar is dark, cool and inviting. The Irish music, whether digital or live, sets a rhythmic pace with thumping bodhrán and toe-tapping fiddle.
I slipped in for lunch a week before Kevin Barry's expects to be wall-to-wall with St. Pat's revelers. Settling in with a pint of Guinness to review the menu, I was confronted with plenty of commonplace "musts" for any bar — the jalapeño poppers, sandwiches and dishes that less adventurous diners consider required fare.
But I found my Irish culinary Neamh (Heaven) in a little portion of the menu dubbed "traditional favorites." I couldn't decide between rib-sticking Shepherd's Pie or comforting Beef Stew. Of course, corned beef and cabbage...wait! The Irish sampler — a bit of all three!
The steaming hot platter would have fed a famine-era family of six for a week. It's a real bargain at $17.95 but plan on sharing this one, or at least taking the steps back to Bay Street a whole lot slower.
The Beef Stew had veggies cut into nice, large, rustic chunks and the beef was tender and well-braised. The fork-tender corned beef insulated a hot layer of slow-cooked cabbage. The mound of mashed potatoes atop the Shepherd's Pie gave way to a rich brown sauce filled with well-seasoned ground beef. A couple of slices of dense brown bread with butter rounded out this feast.
The pub takes some heat for slow service. I can understand this, especially when the place is packed. It's a small kitchen. But know that Kevin Barry's is first and foremost an authentic Irish pub, meaning that it's a place to relax, to regale companions and strangers with exotic tales and to quaff your favorite ale.
Go prepared to relax, to take your time and to savor.
117 W. River St., (912) 233-9626, kevinbarrys.com.
Open for the party
There's been a mad rush on to get some new projects open for St. Patrick's Day weekend guests. These places all made it under the wire:
Wet Willie's opened its third Chatham County location. The new spot at the corner of West St. Julian and Jefferson streets in City Market features two levels of dining, indoor and outdoor seating, hand-painted murals by Bill Wrigley and restored original interior décor including period stained glass windows and doors. The restaurant and bar will serve lunch and dinner daily.
Rose Public House, most recently the location of Lime Grill, did a very nice makeover of this tired space and is open with an American-themed gastropub menu. The new owners are experienced restaurant operators who have assembled an enthusiastic staff. 125 E. Broughton St.
Brick House began its full menu of burgers, BBQ and beer earlier this week at both lunch and dinner. Live music is under the large tent on weekends. This place got a complete makeover after longtime tenant Blowin' Smoke vacated for a new spot on Habersham Street (not yet open). 514 MLK Jr. Blvd.
Moon River Brewing kicked open the gates to its stunning new beer garden on March 8. This dramatic change to the corner of Bay and Whitaker streets offers outdoor dining and a perfect perch to people watch. Sip a Slo-vannah ale and watch the world go by.