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Food & Wine

A taste of Ireland: A look at local pub food

Each year on St. Patrick's Day, thousands - if not millions - of Americans sit down to what they think is an authentic, traditional Irish meal.

In fact, corned beef and cabbage - as well as green beer and even the St. Patrick's Day parade - are more rooted in American culture than in Irish heritage.

Corned beef and cabbage was adapted from a traditional Irish dish called bacon and cabbage by immigrants who fled the Great Famine of 1848 and settled on the East Coast. The "bacon" refers to thick slices of cured ham, rather than the narrow strips of bacon eaten in the United States. Unable to afford the cured ham, they opted for the less expensive alternative, corned beef.

As for green beer and parades, the alcoholic brew popular in Ireland is too dark to show a glimmer of green food coloring. And the first St. Paddy's Day parade held in 1762 was not on the streets of Dublin but in New York City. Even the tradition of flocking to local pubs to celebrate Irish pride is an American ritual. Until 1970, Irish law forced pubs to close on March 17, a Christian holy day.

Perhaps the only enduring tradition that originated in Ireland is the actual celebration of St. Patrick's Day, a feast day during Lent. According to Irish custom, Mass is attended in the morning, followed by eating, drinking and dancing in the afternoon.

Today, the custom of eating corned beef and cabbage and drinking green beer on March 17 is engrained in American culture. Corned beef and cabbage has become a nostalgic reminder of Irish heritage.

There are some local pubs and restaurants that offer authentic Irish fare.

St. Stephen's Green, Irish Pub and Restaurant

St. Stephen's Green is one of the top restaurants to visit for authentic Irish food and brew in the Los Altos area.

The restaurant also offers American favorites, including roast chicken, baked salmon, pork chops and filet mignon. The menu is different for lunch and dinner.

The restaurant provides options for customers looking for low-fat fare with fewer carbohydrates. "But we also cater to people who want to come to a traditional Irish pub and have a good time," said manager Des Whelan.

The restaurant exudes a quintessential Irish pub atmosphere, with its dimly lit interior, worn tables, a glossy bar and Irish memorabilia on the walls. The wait staff are friendly and hail from Ireland.

The restaurant's dishes are not the plain, run-of-the-mill food offered by most pubs, and the time-honored Irish fare is elegantly presented.

The chicken and mushroom pie is one of the most popular items on the menu as well as one of the fastest available. The Irish coffee, a potent mix of whiskey, whipped cream and caffeine, is not for the weak of heart.

Appetizers are $4-$15, "Irish pub favorites" are $11-$12, and entrees are $10-$18.

St. Patrick's Day entertainment is planned for both branches of St. Stephen's Green - in Los Altos and Mountain View. Irish ceili dancers and local Irish musicians will perform in the afternoon at both locations. The disk jockey known as DJ Shambo from Belfast will provide music during the evening at St. Stephen's Green in Mountain View. The rock band the Blind Pilots will perform at 7:30 p.m. at St. Stephen's Green in Los Altos.

The St. Patrick's Day menu includes Irish lamb stew, Galway steak with merlot jus, Wexford steak with an Irish whiskey sauce, shepherd's pie, chicken curry, traditional fish and chips, and corned beef and cabbage.

Irish brews on tap include Guinness, Harp, Murphy's Irish Amber, Murphy's Irish Stout and Kaliber (nonalcoholic).

St. Stephen's Green in Los Altos is located at 169 Main St. Hours are 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., Monday through Thursday, and 4 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., Friday and Saturday.

St. Stephen's Green in Mountain View is located at 223 Castro St. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., seven days a week.

For more information, call 917-1336 (Los Altos) or 964-9159 (Mountain View).

Fibbar MaGee's Irish Pub

Fibbar MaGee's managed to survive the boom-and-bust pub food trend of the 1990s. One of the pub's biggest draws is that it is a venue for live Irish music and local bands. The rear patio is a pleasant area to enjoy an Irish brew or meal during warm weather.

Fibbar MaGee's pub fare consists of large portions of simple, no-frills Irish dishes. The seafood cocktail, made with cod, prawns, salmon, shrimp and clams, has an authentic Irish taste. Like most pubs, Fibbar MaGee's serves tasty potato skins. The restaurant's other popular dishes include Irish stew, chicken and mushroom pie, and fish and chips.

Fibbar MaGee's provides a children's menu. The restaurant is popular during the week for its lunch menu. During the weekend, it draws a dinner crowd.

Appetizers are $3-$7.50, "traditional Irish fare" is $7.95-$9.50, and entrees are $8.25-$14.95.

Entertainment planned for March 17 includes a bagpipe player, noon to 1 p.m.; Irish ceili dancers 2-2:30 p.m.; and the modern rock band Magic Wanda, 8:30 p.m. to closing.

The menu for St. Patrick's Day includes corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips and Irish stew.

Irish beers served include Guinness, Harp and Smithwick, the oldest beer in Ireland. Fibbar MaGee's is one of the few bars in the area that carry Smithwick Ale.

Fibbar MaGee's is located at 156 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. seven days a week. For more information, call (408) 749-8373.

Maltby's Restaurant & Tavern

Maltby's is a favorite Los Altos restaurant, popular for both lunch and dinner.

The restaurant's menu is diverse. Though the focus of the menu is American-style cuisine, it also has some exotic international dishes such as an ahi tuna club sandwich, teriyaki salmon salad and paella.

Customers planning to stick with pub fare on St. Patrick's Day can try Maltby's bangers and mash, half-pound burger, fish and chips, and corned beef and cabbage. The restaurant will serve green beer on St. Patrick's Day.

Maltby's Restaurant & Tavern is located at 101 Plaza North, Los Altos. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30-8:30 p.m., seven days a week. For more information, call 917-8777.

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