Craic Den

Now we know why Irish eyes are smiling.
Tom Jenkins

When you stop by McCarty's in Richardson—and you should—ask one of the regulars at the bar about the time a guy tried to make off with the stuffed and mounted wild boar's head. There are two of the heads hung high in the back room of this wood-paneled Irish-themed restaurant/pub. Great hairy beasts they are, with ears pointed at the ceiling and sharp little tusks sticking out of their half-open maws.

The thief, perhaps a bit bollixed on "the black stuff" (Guinness stout), had tried for the trophy head once before but was interrupted by a vigilant waiter before he could unhook it from the wall. "So we put up a video camera in that corner over there," says the bartender telling the story to a couple of newcomers. "And the next time he came in, he got the head and took off out that door. We called the police and they stopped him up on the service road to Central Expressway. We had him on tape fair and square. We got our boar's head back. Never saw him again."

Stories like that are the heart of any good Irish pub. And for a pub sitting in a North Dallas suburb hard by a Methodist church, a freeway and some chopped-up strip shopping centers, McCarty's manages to feel more than a little bit like a chunk of the old sod. It's a nice joint—part family restaurant, part neighborhood watering hole—serving cheap, hearty food, good drink and the easygoing chat among friends and strangers that the Irish would call "craic" (pronounced "crack").

The Irish angle isn't just a gimmick at McCarty's. One of the owners and occasional bartenders here is Jason Brown, grandson of J.W. "Jack" McCarty who, with wife Vera, opened the Golden Eagle Restaurant on the same site in 1958. Specializing in low-priced home cooking, the Golden Eagle was a Richardson mainstay that remained open for nearly half a century, though ownership changed several times after Jack McCarty's death in 1972. The last proprietor declared bankruptcy and auctioned off the fixtures in 2005. Brown's family retained the deed to the building, however, and it was his idea to rename and reopen last summer with a tip of the derby to the McCarty family's Irish heritage.

On the menu still are some of the Golden Eagle's best old recipes, plus a few new items linked to the theme. The "Bono's fish and chips" is a pile of fried gold, the beer-batter on the fist-sized chunks of cod cooked to the same crisp orange as the little mountain of curly fries they come with. Pour on the malt vinegar to cut the grease, take a big bite and then slurp from a mug of Guinness whose bitter, toasty tang is a fine complement to the fish. (The bar boasts all the familiar ales and stouts, including Harp and Killian's.)

A bowl of "Mummum's Irish stew" is a rib-sticking mix of potatoes, celery, mushrooms, green beans, carrots, onions and fork-tender chunks of beef, made from scratch and simmered for 14 hours (or so the server tells us) until the Guinness-goosed gravy is as brown and thick as flannel and twice as comforting. The Irish beef pie is the same stuff topped with a thick layer of velvety mashed potatoes.

Bangers and mash, chicken and dumplings, roast beef with brown gravy and two veg—all standard pub and diner food, but well-made and mighty satisfying here. There's chicken-fried steak, too, and weekly specials such as the Thursday night prime-rib dinner. Tuesday, according to the fliers stacked by the door, is "Spaggehti night." That spelling, along with the "Ceasar salad," might hint at some quaint Emerald Isle twist on the usual. (We didn't try either, so it might just be someone's sloppy typing on the advert.)

McCarty's promises workday "express lunch" to the table in 15 minutes. There's no need to rush at evening happy hour, when the wooden booths (what Irish publicans call "snugs") are packed with shirt-sleeved young salary men sharing pitchers of beer and plates of hot wings. Peering over each other's shoulders at the 14 plasma TV screens overhead, all telecasting sports channels, they're in a guy heaven of drink and smoke (no smoking ban here in the 'burb north of LBJ).

Among the appetizers, the best we found are "O'Reilley's favorite sliders," mini-cheeseburgers made fresh to order, the thick chunks of ground beef popped between puffs of flour-dusted white Hawaiian bread, with the fixin's on the side. A plate of four won't be enough for two people, so go ahead and get a double order up front. The "O'Quinn's favorites" are the chicken version of the slider, with unbreaded white-meat tenders either blackened or grilled and so peppery-good we get an extra batch to take home for a midnight snack.

The most expensive meal on the McCarty's menu turns out to be the biggest letdown. At less than $15, a 6-ounce filet mignon with baked potato and fresh broccoli would still be a pretty fair bargain. But our very thin cut, when we examine it closely, looks suspiciously like a tiny New York strip and not a true filet mignon. Though it is tender, it is charred way beyond medium well and yields only four or five small bites, hardly enough for a hungry meat-eater, even at that price. The side salad is right out of a plastic bag, one that has been open awhile, judging from the brown edges on the pale slivers of iceberg lettuce.

At both visits, a late happy hour weekday dinner and a mid-afternoon weekend lunch, service is attentive without being intrusive. Waitresses here are the sort of wholesome young women in tight jeans and swingy ponytails who'll tell you straight up when something on the menu isn't quite up to snuff that day and who'll apologize again and again—"I'm so, so sorry!"—when the kitchen can't produce a single slice of cheesecake. The cheesecake (brought in from an outside bakery) is unavailable at our first stop and is still missing five days later, so our waitress treats us to the only other "pudding" option, the chocolate mousse cake, a wedge of gooey overkill that starts with a base of Oreo-like cookie crumbs, proceeds upward to a middle layer of waxy mousse and caramel sauce and ends with hyperglycemia.

With rain bucketing down outside, we linger after our late lunch for another half an hour, catching glimpses of golf on the TV screens when conversation lags. We nibble on the Jelly Bellies in the plastic shamrock dish on the table and try for some Irish coffee, but the daytime bartender produces only a crockery mug of watery brew with barely a hint of whiskey and no cream and sugar.

Like any real "local" in Ireland, McCarty's draws a broad mix of customers. We see elderly foursomes at bar tables and young families with children dining on burgers and fries on the restaurant side. Singles do the after-work flirt thing up at the antique wood-inlaid bar. On the small stage in the northwest corner of the dining area, comedians noodle around with new jokes in the late-night spot after those Tuesday "spaggehti" feasts. Karaoke happens on Wednesdays. Bands set up on Fridays and Saturdays. (See the rock and roll cover trio 3 Drunk Monkeys on weekends this month.)

McCarty's keeps it simple. Prices are low, food is decent and the Guinness is poured with a creamy head of foam. It's a nice place for meeting friends for a relaxed meal, hoisting a pint or two and engaging in some of that good "craic."

If only for another order of those O'Reilley's sliders, we'll definitely be baic. 215 N. Central Expressway, Richardson, 972-234-2111. Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m daily. $$

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