I don’t drink anymore, but I always appreciate an atmospheric pub or bar that serves warm, hearty fare. Pub grub is some of the ultimate comfort food, especially when the temperature finally drops a bit (which in Florida means a few days in the 50s and nights in the 40s). I miss the old Fox’s Sherron Inn in South Miami, a dimly lit dive bar straight out of a Tom Waits song, jukebox and all, that served surprisingly good food. It has been gone for over a decade, and it makes me sad that there’s no trace remaining, and too many people will never even know it was there.
But on a happier note, ever since I moved to Orlando in late 2004, I’ve been a huge fan of the great Irish pub in Winter Park, Fiddler’s Green (https://fiddlersgreen.pub/). It feels like it was teleported here directly from Ireland — full of dark wood, no windows, a cozy little hideout near Park Avenue and Rollins College. Luckily almost everyone knows the place, and those who know it love it. Over the past 15 years, I’ve eaten countless meals at Fiddler’s Green that nourished the body and the soul, always accompanied by my wife or friends or co-workers, and good times were had by all. Once, on one of their rare visits up here, I even brought my parents to Fiddler’s Green. These are people who like what they like and don’t always like trying new things, but they loved it. Years later, they still talk about the dinner we had — certainly nothing fancy, but one of those “perfect in every way” meals that just hit the spot for everyone.
This is the fish and chips ($17.95) that won my parents over, and also my wife’s go-to order at Fiddler’s Green. You get three huge beer-battered Atlantic cod filets, fried to crispy golden-brown perfection — never too greasy, always tender, with just the right level of crunch to the batter. The batter stays on and maintained that ideal crispness even after transporting my most recent order home. The fish is served with a cool, creamy remoulade sauce, with the slightest tangy zip to it.
Here’s a close-up of that gorgeous fried fish. It’ll make you moan “Oh my cod!”
And here are the chips, delicious potato wedges. I figure anyone reading this review knows that with British and Irish fish and chips, the “chips” refer to fries, and if you want thinner, crunchier potato chips, those are “crisps.” So much for a common language, eh wot? As far as fries/chips go, I’m often skeptical of potato wedges because they are rarely crispy, and if I wanted a baked potato (which I never do), I’d just order a baked potato. But these are firm on the outside and soft on the inside, but not flaking apart either.
You might expect an Irish pub would serve potatoes using multiple masterful methods, and you’d be right. These are the ceili chips ($4.95), which are actually the potato chips most of us know and love… so in Irish pub parlance, they are crisps. Don’t expect the hard crunchiness of store-bought kettle chips — these are thinner and crispier, and thankfully never soggy from grease. We can’t go to Fiddler’s Green and not order a round of these.
Longtime Saboscrivner subscribers know I am obsessed with condiments, so whenever we would go to Fiddler’s Green, I would request a bottle of HP Sauce for the table and dunk the ceili chips (crisps) and potato wedges (chips) in it. It’s a British condiment that’s a dark reddish-brown, savory and tangy, with a superficial similarity to our A1 sauce, but a million times better. I asked for a few dipping cups of HP Sauce with this takeout order, and they were kind enough to oblige, but I really should just buy a bottle at our local British Shoppe in Orlando’s Mills 50 district.
I am especially obsessed with mustards, and Fiddler’s also has glass bottles of sinus-clearing Coleman’s prepared English mustard that they will bring to the table upon request. A little of that stuff goes a long way, but it’s totally worth trying a dab, especially if you are congested.
But after all this talk of fried potatoes and far-flung condiments, I ordered myself an entree that was also really good: Irish stew ($16.95), a thick, rich, heavy concoction of lamb, potatoes, carrots, “and a hint of thyme,” according to the website. Lamb is one of my favorite meats and thyme is one of favorite herbs, and you can definitely taste them in a perfect melange in this stew. Of course they top it with a dollop of creamy mashed potatoes and some scallions. Some people might mix it into the stew like it’s a container of hummus with a little island of sun-dried tomatoes in the middle, but I prefer to get a little morsel of the mash in every spoonful of stew.
This is one of those ultimate cold weather comfort foods for me, like chili and lasagna. If there wasn’t a pandemic going on, I’d love to sit down to another bowl of Irish stew inside Fiddler’s Green the next time we get a cold (for Florida) day. It just feels good — the warmth, the familiarity, the surroundings, the Irish music playing in the background or sometimes performed live by wonderful local musicians.
On other visits, I have also enjoyed the corned beef and cabbage (the best thing to add a dab of the Coleman’s mustard to), bangers and mash with these delicious caramelized pearl onions I would eat by the bowlful, and rich potato leek soup, topped with bacon and cheddar cheese. I think of these as fall and winter foods, even though we don’t really get a fall here, and our winter consists of random days that add up to about two weeks out of the year.
Long before COVID, I was at a point where I don’t hang out at bars and pubs anymore unless I’m eating or going out of my way to catch live music. That said, Fiddler’s Green has always felt warm and welcoming, like a piece of home. I love that it’s a little dark inside with no windows. On a sweltering, humid Florida summer day, it can transport you to the old country, even if Ireland was never your people’s old country. And on our rare days of jacket weather, it feels like a safe, comforting cave in the best possible way. Maybe some day soon, we can all feel safe and comfortable huddling in there again, over pints and chips (crisps) with family and friends. In the meantime, I’ll keep ordering takeout from here, and hopefully we have a few more chilly days this season for maximum enjoyment of it.