Nearly 20 years after its opening as a pioneer on the Frankfort Avenue restaurant row, the Irish Rover has settled in to its neighborhood setting so comfortably that it feels as if it’s been there as long as the 150-year-old brick building it inhabits. While it’s as authentically Irish as a pub in Limerick, maybe, or Killarney, the Rover makes a perfect fit in Clifton. With its dark but cozy bar and its sunny, lace-curtained dining rooms, it’s almost two pubs in one, both as Irish as can be.
We returned home to Louisville and Crescent Hill shortly after the Rover opened in 1993, and I immediately placed it on my list of favorite pubs, a cozy saloon where one could enjoy a perfectly drawn draught of Guinness and, perhaps, some fish and chips.
More recently, I’ve come to recognize the Rover as an attractive destination for dinner, with or without a malty brew. And that goes double on the kind of wintry, blustery night we’ve been having, with a special winter menu on hand to bulk up the Rover’s selection of stick-to-your-ribs fare.
Publicans Siobhan and Michael Reidy offer a classic pub-grub menu of Irish dishes, from “bar bite” appetizers, soups and salads to a worthy selection of sandwiches, pub grub and dinner “pub plates.” The bar bites (you could call ‘em Irish tapas) and pub grub dishes are mostly under $10, while the dinner-style pub plates are mostly under $15, topping out at $19.95 for an Irish Whiskey steak, grilled and seductively sauced with a whiskey cream.
Fish and chips ($8.95) remain a favorite, mild white fish cloaked in a thick but light batter fried golden-brown and delicious, served with thick slabs of crisp, grease-free hand-cut fries. Our friend Sarah can never leave without sampling a Scotch egg ($3.95), and it’s hard to resist salmon potato puffs ($4.95), golf-ball-size deep-fried rounds of mashed potatoes laced with smoked salmon, onion and dill.
But let’s talk about that winter menu. It features five special entrees in the affordable range, from $6.95 (for a vegetarian lentil burger patty fashioned from lentils, bread crumbs and Swiss, grilled and placed on a Kaiser roll with remoulade and Irish chips) to $10.95 (for thin-pounded, pan-fried pork loin served with apple-onion compote and colcannon, the Irish cabbage-and-potato dish).
You might choose a hearty veggie stew ($7.95) or a field greens salad topped with grilled chicken breast and butternut squash ($8.95).
My eyes, however, went right to the stuffed meatloaf, available as a sandwich ($7.95) or as a dinner ($12.95), a double portion served with Irish mashed potatoes, vegetables and brown gravy.
I went the sandwich route and was rewarded with an excellent, thick slice of light but juicy beef meatloaf, built around a surprise center of tender portobello mushroom and a layer of tangy blue cheese. It was served on a tasty if not-so-Irish triangle of focaccia bread smeared with a tasty dollop of champ (Irish mashed potatoes loaded with scallions). The flavors were outstanding, with the advice that this is a sandwich to eat with a knife and fork, not out of hand.
With half pints of Guinness, of course, and Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale from Kalamazoo, Mich., a recent dinner for two came to a very reasonable $29.52, plus a $7 tip.
The Irish Rover
2319 Frankfort Ave.
Another location: The Irish Rover Too, 117 E. Main St., LaGrange, 222-2286.