Food News

Feargal McKinney, Owner of the Old Monk and Blackfriar, on the Magic of an Old Irish Whiskey

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Are there any local spots you prefer for Irish food? No. Not really. I can get corned beef and banger sausages here all the time. I go home to Ireland twice a year and get my fill then.

What about other spots? This weekend when the weather was nice we actually went to Joe T. Garcia's in Fort Worth because we were out that way. We loved it. We live in East Dallas, so we go to a lot of small places over there.

When you visit Ireland, do you look forward to home cooking? Well, I have three brothers and three sisters -- in all there are about 18 adults and 30 kids. And, actually, one day every year I cook a big Tex-Mex feast for everyone. We bring some of the ingredients over with us and have other stuff shipped, like the chips. I smoke a brisket, make fajitas, salsa and guacamole. For the first time this year I made queso. Before I wasn't able to make it because I couldn't find the right kind of cheese -- I tried a couple different types, but it didn't come out right. So, this year I found those easy single slices and had my kids unwrap about a 100 of them and it actually worked. It's kind of funny. So, each year we have a huge Mexican food feast in Ireland.

How are things back at home? Ireland's had a tough couple of years ... When I left back in the 80's, unemployment was around 16 percent, which is why so many, like myself, left. Now it's back at about 14 percent. It's terrible. And people aren't coming to the U.S. so much anymore because of visa restrictions, but they're going to really any place they can get work, a lot to England to get ready for the Olympics. Ireland is just so small. The scale of the recent financial crisis was unbelievable. Ireland got a $90 billion bailout for a population of 4 million people -- work that per person.

On to brighter topics, what's your favorite Irish drink? Guinness. There's just something unique about it and I've been drinking it for so long now. I like it any time of year, but this time of year especially. Also, the Irish whiskey movement is really good at the moment. There weren't really a lot for a while, Jameson was the only thing you could find here when I first got here. But recently, there has been a bit of an explosion.

Do you have any favorites? There's an interesting distillery called Cooley that hadn't been doing very well and was bought by Irish businessman who essentially saved it. They were putting out some really interesting things. Then, more recently, Jim Beam bought it. I think it says something that Jim Beam was looking for an Irish whiskey in their portfolio.

Do you have a whiskey recommendation? Redbreast is a 12 year-old Irish whiskey by Jameson that is a really good value. With a little ice or straight. There's also a Jameson 18 year that is really gorgeous, but it gets expensive.

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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.