Something to Brag About
Grand fusses are often made of restaurant makeovers. It doesn't matter if improvements are little more than a splash of fresh paint and a reconfigured french fry, or a new karaoke salon and a whole new chicken-fried menu, the operator will squeeze all the publicity out of if he can, sometimes with a grand reopening.
That's why when Tipperary Inn owner Martin Lombard announced he was closing his 10-plus-year-old Irish pub on Live Oak and Skillman for a "massive renovation job to rebuild the bar as a legitimate Irish pub with a full menu of food," I put my waders on. Not that the pub didn't need more nips and tucks than Joan Rivers, there was just grave doubt that Tipperary could be adequately rescued.
Sure, The Tipp had many devoted fans, but some people would faithfully congregate in the county coroner's office if the beer was cold, or in this case, warm. Tipperary was once a painfully uncozy, chilly and unstylish hall resembling a church basement (made more interesting with the heresy of beer and whiskey posters). The Tipp had a great beer selection and really bad food. The service was friendly, but a friendly smirk and a little Harp head usually does not a regular make.
But damn if Tipperary hasn't gone and lived up to its PR. And it's not just because it plays Thin Lizzy and the Cranberries on the sound system either. The Tipp is beautiful--a makeover Joan Rivers would trade her left nostril for. The Tipp is rich, classic, warm, cuddly, romantic, sophisticated, quaint. It has a phone booth on the inside just past the front door. The pub is sliced into digestible sections via rich wood-paneled booths imported from Ireland. They look like little drinking cubicles, and who wouldn't agree that proper imbibing requires the focused concentration and dignified devotion that only a cubicle can provide?
But the most startling Tipperary transformation is the food, formerly there just to provide something to fill the mouth between gulps of Guinness. Even "old Tipp Inn favorites" assume loftiness on the revised menu, a sublime standing that would have gotten them ridiculed on the old menu. Guinness queso and chips is one such example. The chips are just simple thin blond pieces without much flavor, or more accurately, not much salt. But maybe the whole point here is a blank slate to properly showcase the queso, which though it had a barely perceptible trace of Guinness, was smooth, lively and rich with little colorful piles of diced tomato and scallions planted over the top to give it a little fresh zing.
Guinness is used in other dishes, too. Oysters on the half shell, for example, come with a squirt of Guinness, though like the Guinness queso the stout flavor is hard to detect. The menu says oysters and Guinness are "a natural pairing and are especially popular in pubs along the west coast of Ireland." The oysters were good, too: meaty gray-white jiggly nodes sitting in a puddle of what must have contained Guinness, but seemed more like cheap burp fizz from Milwaukee. Then again, the oysters were warm. So there must have been Guinness in there somewhere.
You expect the Irish to know a thing or two about potatoes, cabbage and the ploughman's lunch. But quail?
Two boneless grilled quail frames are split and propped up like lean-tos (why does so much contemporary cuisine look like camping equipment?) around a stiff silo of colcannon (cabbage and potatoes boiled together and mashed). The quail was deliciously juicy, hearty and chewy and was slathered with a sweetish paddy whiskey marmalade with flecks of what tasted like chunks of apricot, but was probably Guinness.
The Tipp even did a fair job fiddling with steakhouse fodder, even though the grilled filet mignon came out looking more like a baseball than a lean piece of tenderloin. Still, it tasted better than what I imagine the Irish would normally do to a fine piece of meat. The fillet was full of tasty richness, even if it was a little stringy. Plus, it was striped with a strip of crispy and chewy apple-smoked bacon. And not only was the scoop of colcannon good, the crisp vegetables--broccoli, pepper and carrot--were tasty.
The transformation the Tipperary Inn has undergone is nothing short of dramatic. Designed in Victorian pub style, the pub's elements (bar, furniture, booths, façades) were constructed in Dublin and shipped to Dallas for assembly. The pub has hardwood floors, panels of stained glass in the booths and wood panels on the room's support posts that look like old doors. There are even a few shelves on one wall stocked with old books, though it's a curious character who saunters into a pub to read a book, though the large menu is a little fun to study, with its headings spelled out in Gaelic.
All of Tipperary's salad selections are variations on the house salad: mixed greens, tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers and carrots. There's house salad with chicken breast, house salad with grilled salmon fillet and house salad with a cup of potato and leek soup (sadly, there's no house salad with Guinness). The house salad with grilled shrimp was delicious with a trio of plump, tasty grill-striped shrimp draped on one side of the greens. The shrimp were moist, firm and delicious.
Sandwiches held to higher ground as well. The Irish RLT, an acronym for rasher, lettuce and tomato (rashers are bacon), was assembled in two intensely grill-singed slices of wheat bread, which may be what kept the mayo-drenched toast from going soggy. The sandwich was sewn with a potently rich, smoky bacon flavor, making it a cut above the typical BLT.
Beer-battered fish and chips were also better than the typical fare of this type, which can range from thick batter casings wrapping a center of goo, to thin, gooey batter casings wrapping still more goo. The Tipp has a pair of large, lightly battered fillets with delicate, moist cod in the center. The fish was near perfect, though the "light" battering was a little pasty and gummy instead of crisp. The chips (they reconfigured the fries, too) were astounding: crisp, well-seasoned and moist.
Dessert scored high notes as well. Gooey bread pudding drenched in a white chocolate whiskey sauce was creamy, moist, hearty and very warm.
Which is what The Tipp's service is for the most part. Except on one visit, it was a little discombobulated. Our server took an inordinately long time to get to our table, and service interval pauses seemed to stretch for long periods, making it difficult to keep a good buzz going. Plus, a couple of items from our order were no shows.
But that's OK. As we were leaving, he chased us down the street to give something we left behind. It was a shoe. This must happen a lot in Irish pubs.
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