Fighting the Irish

Emerald Mist seems little more than an Irish pub that's been homogenized and stuccoed; stuffed with burgers, Caesar salads, and pastas; and slapped into the 'burbs. Yet it's more than that, though you'd never know it from owner Patti Russell.

Wedged into a former Street Talk Café location at Campbell and Plano roads, the outside of this expansive, corporate cafeteria cum pub straining to reek with a semblance of authenticity is bathed in green and purple neon. "I tore this place apart," Russell says. "I get more compliments on the décor than I do anything else."

Which is a shame. The only decorative notes worth noting are the crispness of the big screen TV that constantly flickers with hockey and baseball, and the musicians on stage, blowing flutes, fiddling with fiddles, and strumming guitars.

Not that the space isn't decent. It just kind of looks like a VFW hall with lots of beer signs. The pub side has tables pushed together end-to-end, like a bier garten.

The really odd space is the nonsmoking section, which is separated from the bar with a skeletal, faux Irish cottage partition iced with white stucco. It looks like a half-finished do-it-yourself trade-show booth.

"It doesn't have the pub look," Russell says of her nonsmoking-space creation. "It has nicer fixtures, if you will."

She must mean the lace curtains on the windows, the coverings on the tables, and the gold stucco with tea-stained hues -- a sort of '70s kitchen look.

The décor is not the only thing Russell is especially proud of. She also gushes over Emerald Mist's potato soup ($1.75 cup/$3.25 bowl), which is justifiable considering the creamy richness of the potage, stuffed with potato hunks, surging cheddar cheese flavor, and a pant of smoke wheezed from specks of bacon.

"We consider ourselves to be an Irish-American pub," Russell says. More American than Irish, I'd say. The precious few Irish items are listed in green. Most of the remaining offerings -- burgers, steak, pasta, shrimp -- are in black.

And that black stuff is spotty, at best. A little thing called the hungry shepherd ($5.50) -- an uninspired, slapped-together, off-the-shelf gnaw-fest -- is nothing more than slices of Swiss and cheddar cheese, washed-out black and green olives, and red grapes. The soda bread was good, though, and slices of robust summer sausage hit with spark.

Grilled chicken breast ($7.50) was a misfire. A thin piece of dry chicken was grilled after an application of a gritty coating of powdered spices -- kind of an over-anxious, clumsy rub. The side of pasta primavera with bow-tie noodles was gummy, overcooked, and lumbering in a heavy-handed, inelegant sauce.

But why mess with this stuff, when most of the Irish offerings connect with vigor? Corned beef and cabbage ($7.25) is piled with rich, ruddy brisket that's tender, moist, and flavorful. Yet the hunk carved out of a cabbage head was hard, bland, and barely edible. The kitchen should dispense with the gritty chicken breast and figure out how to steam, sauté, or blanch cabbage leaves into suppleness while retaining bright veins of green. Colcannon (mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage with onion and butter) was flavorful but arid.

The big surprise was the Guinness stew ($5.75). Simmered in smoothly exuberant beer gravy for several hours, this compact bowl suspended chewy, rich chunks of beef and firmly soft lumps of carrot and potato. A potent punch of pepper kept it interesting, though balance was never compromised.

Not all of the un-Irish stabs failed, though. On Monday nights, Emerald offers a 10-oz. rib eye with all-you-can eat salad and baked potato for $8.50. The steak isn't silky and smooth; it's thin and a little gristly, but it still had lots of juice and flavor and rivaled any under-$10 steak you'll find in Dallas.

A former senior manager for MCI, Russell and her partner, Bruce Wells, opened this Richardson pub last August in their first restaurant foray. Sticking to the green could substantially enrich their prospects.


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