by Kat Robinson
It's inevitable... folks hear the words "St. Patrick's Day" and somehow start to gravitate to the first thing they think of that relates to Ireland. Around these parts, that would be Cregeen's Irish Pub in the Argenta District. The pub itself, according to its website, was built in Dublin and shipped over to be reconstructed in the budding new restaurant and arts district of North Little Rock. Popular for both its cozy atmosphere and extensive, extensive lineup of beer both on-tap and in-bottle, the restaurant at the corner of Main and Broadway draws a decent crowd on just about any night. For the next few days, expect it to be even more packed.
But the question you may have, if you haven't ever been, is "how's the food?" Well, it's an ecclectic mix... lots of popular American style sandwiches and wraps, lots of Irish favorites. And an unusual item called the Airlift... more on the jump.
The Airlift confirms my suspicions about the average Arkansas eatery. I have traveled far and wide, and at just about every Mom and Pop drive-in and local hangout, you'll find a variety of the Reuben sandwich. I have no idea why -- I mean, seriously, corned beef isn't really a normally native staple. Now, Cregeen's does have a signature Reuben -- but it also has what's pictured above (that's the sampler platter in the background) -- the Airlift ($6.95), cubes of corned beef beer-battered and deep fried and served up with something called Yacht Club Sauce that's eerily reminiscent of Thousand Island with some more onions thrown in. It's unusual... salty, meaty, a bit on the oily side, but so unique and different that it's worth a try. It's good to share with your friends.
The Sampler Platter for Two ($9.95) comes with the usual mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders, and fried mushrooms but also with boxty farthings -- small, half-dollar sized fried potato cakes. Except for the latter, pretty standard fare, but the variety of dips (sour cream, honey mustard, marinara, and Ranch dressing) allow for a little sampling. And I like boxty farthings.
I think there's a law somewhere, out there in restaurant-land, that says you can't have an Irish pub-style restaurant without offering Bangers and Mash. And usually you get a soggy sausage and a lump of potatoes and pay a hefty sum for something you could have whipped up at the house with little thought. But that right there, the Bangers and Mash ($6.95) pictured above, is just pretty. Garlicky potatoes and a real banger served up in its own gravy? Well, that's just man food.
One thing I haven't seen at any "pubs" around here -- an Irish Breakfast served all day. The All Day Irish Breakfast ($6.75) is a tribute to cholesterol -- fried eggs, sausages, bacon -- I mean rashers, and toast -- and a little tomato, don't forget that, gotta have something healthy there. It's all imported from Ireland (except probably those tomatoes) and served up hot and greasy. I've seen it ordered again and again, and though I can't touch it I believe it has to be decent, since as I said, I've seen it ordered again and again.
I will say, I really enjoy the Fish and Chips... the Shepherd's Pie is okay, too. I do kinda question the idea of a Southwest Chicken Sandwich at an Irish Pub, but that's probably just me (and might have to do with the restaurant's proximity to City Hall and hungry civil servants). But if you don't mind a crowd, go. There are musical acts playing the next few nights to celebrate the big holiday. Don't like the crowds? Better wait.