Two out of three ain't bad

The beer and the company are great at the Tipperary Inn. Just stay away from the food.

There's one thing you can say about the best in Irish cuisine: If you drink too much of it, you completely lose the ability to enunciate consonants.

Now, it would be way too easy to suggest that the Tipperary Inn is a great place to dine, as long as you don't eat anything. So I'll let Tipperary Inn owner Martin Lombard do all the heavy lifting. When his Irish pub opened some eight years ago, published reports quoted Lombard stating he wouldn't serve pure Irish food, because if he did, no one in Texas would eat the stuff. "In Ireland, it's cold and it's wet and it's kind of miserable, so we're big meat and potatoes kind of guys," he explains. "We've kind of adapted the recipes to suit Texas."

He does this by perking up dishes with peppers, extra salt, scallions, and even basil. He scatters his reasonably priced menu with things like chips and green-chili-tomato salsa, Guinness queso and chips, and Caesar salad among a selection of sandwiches, shepherd's pie, and boxty (Irish potato pancakes).

"In Ireland we use so little in the way of seasoning, even salt, you know," Lombard adds. "Some of the food is very, very bland."

That's why it's hard to know whether what you're eating is authentically bad, or just plain bad. Case in point: traditional Irish stew with lamb. This recipe is generally composed of equal portions of meat, potato, and onion slow-cooked for a few hours and then left to sit so the flavors can meld. But this version was runny, and to borrow a term from Lombard, bland. Plus, there was little of anything swimming in this brown, viscous lake to sink your teeth into. I counted four chunks of meat (dry and fibrous), three bits of carrot, six pieces of celery, and amazingly, zero potato pieces. Dinty Moore is more generous.

But I kept hope alive, until I sampled the corned beef and cabbage. Strips of dry, overcooked meat were arranged next to mushy, washed-out cabbage. The only point of redemption on the plate was the colcannon: milk- and butter-moistened mashed potatoes laced with chopped cabbage. These creamy potatoes with a slightly pungent cabbage spark make a visit to Tipperary Inn worth the effort.

Unfortunately, little else does, at least when it comes to the food. The mixed grill, a collection of sausages (bangers and pudding) and meats, was mostly samples of material that might better be suited to shoe repair. The bangers, links made from ground pork and bread, were dry, shriveled, and leathery. Slices of pudding--white and black pig's blood--were like miniature hockey pucks. One piece was so hard that when I tried to cut it with a fork, the downward pressure projected the thing off into the distance and forced the plate into my pint of beer, sloshing the stuff all over the table. The only worthy occupant on the plate was the chewy and flavorful Irish bacon, which tasted even better splashed with beer.

Other things lifted the general tenor a bit. Besides tasty wedge-cut seasoned fries, the basket of fish and chips held moist pollock sheathed in a thick, crisp coating. I just wish the fish weren't so doggone greasy.

Irish dry smoked salmon and soda bread with diced tomato, onion, capers, and cream cheese was smooth and tender with lots of silky smokiness. The hearts of palm salad, quartered palm-heart spears, was limp and looked thrown together instead of thoughtfully arranged. But the quartered cherry tomatoes were juicy and flush with flavor, while the roasted green, yellow, and red bell peppers were an effectively sweet counterpoint.

Despite being overcooked and dry, the Irish bacon burger with blarney cheese still had a lot of flavor, and those seasoned fries were even tastier on this plate, without the least bit of greasiness.

But let's be honest, food in an Irish pub was never meant for sensuous bedazzlement. It has a strictly utilitarian purpose: to soak up pints of Harp so the brain doesn't bear the brunt of a malted-barley washout and start ordering the mouth to articulate complicated terms beyond its physical limitations. Budweiser, for instance.

And Tipperary has a tightly focused selection of brews that definitely require a belly sop-up. There are stouts (Guinness, Murphy's), ales (New Castle Brown, Bass, Belhaven, Pete's Wicked), and wheats and lagers (Warsteiner, Pilsner Urquell), as well as bottled brews from Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany, and the United States, among other places.

Yet even in this culinary environment there are opportunities for imaginative pub play. Pretzels with horseradish mustard sauce, listed on the appetizer menu, piqued my interest--especially at two bucks and a quarter. I guess I expected some kind of large salt-encrusted soft dough knot with a splash of Guinness baked into it or something. Instead, this opportunity for a clever Irish twist was squandered: It was nothing more than a basket of Mr. Salty tiny twists with a plastic cup of Dijon. Don't most pubs shovel this sort of thing out gratis to pave mouths for additional beer washes?

Once a manager of the Galleria restaurant Huntington's, Lombard, along with his wife, Anne, opened Tipperary Inn on lower Greenville Avenue in 1990. Four years ago, they moved their pub to a spacious location on Live Oak near Skillman. Decor is limited to posters for Guinness and Harp, Jameson Irish whiskey, and Pete's Wicked Ale. It's a comfortable spot with live Irish and Celtic music, darts, shuffleboard, billiards, trivia contests, and service that's warm and inviting. Plus, the camaraderie of the patrons, seemingly regulars, is infectious. Tipperary Inn would be a great place to hang if it just had a tighter grip on the grub.

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