This past weekend, my wife and I journeyed to Disney Springs to see the ridiculously talented singer/songwriter/rapper/dancer/actress Janelle Monae perform at the House of Blues. Needless to say, she was incredible. I’ve been a fan of her Afro-futuristic feminist funk-soul-pop-hip hop-R&B for almost a decade, and this was our first opportunity to see her live. If you ever get the chance to see her, DO IT. You won’t regret it. She might be the most talented and culturally relevant female musician out there right now, and yes, I did consider your favorite artist. I would be thrilled to introduce my readers to her best material, but here’s her song “Americans” off her new album Dirty Computer, which I think serves as an anthem and rallying cry for the progressive, inclusive, empathetic resistance in 2018: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POZNheF-KdY
Anyway, we’ve had good, bad, and plenty of so-so experiences dining at Disney Springs, so we opted to return to an old favorite, the boisterous Irish pub Raglan Road. Sprawling, loud, and crowded, you can always count on a festive atmosphere, solid food, and friendly service. This evening, they had a three-piece Irish band playing Celtic folk music, along with winsome Irish dancers clogging away on a central stage. Sometimes it can be too loud to have a conversation, but we were seated a decent distance from the stage, ironically in the “Music Room,” where we could hear and enjoy the music perfectly without it drowning out each other’s voices.
It’s hard to not get caught up in the welcoming old-country vibe and party atmosphere of the place, and I’ve never been to Ireland and don’t think I have any Irish in me. But when I listen to the Pogues, I feel a strong kinship with Irish culture, and when I set foot in a good pub, I feel the same. Not bad for a guy who doesn’t even drink!
Of course, every meal at Raglan Road starts with slices of rich, brown Irish soda bread, served with a masterful dipping sauce that is Guinness stout ale reduced with sugar and mixed with olive oil. It is so good, and it sets the tone for everything to follow. Sorry I didn’t get a picture this time.
On previous visits, we have defaulted to Irish pub classics like fish and chips, bangers and mash, or bacon loin and cabbage (much more traditional than the 19th Century New York City substitution of corned beef and cabbage). Once we arrived early enough on a Sunday for them to offer a full Irish breakfast option, which I had to go for (much to the chagrin of my body). My favorite part is always the black pudding (AKA blood sausage), and I’m 100% serious. It is delicious, and I wish it was a regular menu item.
This time, the menu had several new options since the last time we were there (maybe two years ago), so we decided to split two entrees that were new to us. My wife loves sea scallops, pork belly, and gnocchi, those chewy, potatoey dumplings, so she had a hard time saying no to the “Gnocchi See, Gnocchi Do,” with handmade potato gnocchi, seared Georges bank scallops, crispy pork belly, tomatoes, and kale in a white wine butter sauce. She was kind enough to share some of it with me, although she gave me one whole scallop and the dish only came with three! That’s true love, folks.
They were really big scallops, perfectly seared, sweet and buttery. But I almost hate ordering scallops at restaurants because you can usually end up counting them on one hand. The tomatoes were halved grape tomatoes. She’s not a tomato fan and I got too full to finish them. I would have preferred regular diced tomatoes, or better yet, sun-dried tomatoes, which would have added another nice texture and a little sweetness.
I asked what her second choice was, so I could order that and share it with her. We both love game meats, or any gamier meat, so we were both tempted by the Boaring Burger, a grilled wild boar burger with Cashel blue cheese, crispy onion strings, arugula, port and pear chutney, and herb aioli, served on a floury potato bun. We both thought the wild boar was a little dry, but at least it had a nice flavor (much more interesting than most pork, which I find almost as bland as boneless, skinless chicken breasts). There was nothing “boaring” about it!
The burger had a lot of contrasting tastes and textures that worked well together, and the bun held it all in place well. It even came with a nice little side salad, and a crunchy sweet pickle garnish. Believe it or not, I’m not generally a fan of pickles, but I am working on developing more of an appreciation for them.
And since I had a choice of side and the fries/chips walking out of the kitchen looked a little light and unappealing, I opted for onion rings. That’s right, folks, this ended up being a RING THE ALARM! feature! (Cue the air horns!)
I must admit, these are not my favorite kinds of onion rings. They were huge, and the batter was thick, heavy, and crunchy, but at least not overly greasy. I suspect it may be the same kind of batter they use for their fried fish, but despite being referred to as “beer battered onion rings” on the menu, they aren’t the golden-brown beer battered rings I’m on a never-ending quest for. But for a change, my wife actually liked them — or at least the crunchy batter. She peeled a few of them and left the onions behind for me!
Raglan Road has one of my all-time favorite desserts, a rich bread and butter pudding that almost defies explanation, especially because I haven’t had it in a few years. But we were both very full, she had already had mini-cupcakes from the nearby Sprinkles bakery, and we had a concert to go to at a sold-out venue with limited restrooms, so I figured “Why tempt fate?” Get to be my age, you Millennials, and you’ll start enjoying the same interior monologues with every meal YOU eat.