Shanachie continues to broaden its appeal

Tuesday, 4th Oct, 2011

Ed Egan, co-owner of the Shanachie Irish Pub & Restaurant, says he is not sure what makes him feel the best. It could be the fact that the Shanachie has placed first in Montgomery Media’s annual Readers’ Choice awards as the best Irish pub five or six times already, including 2011.

Mussels Kinsale

Mussels Kinsale, one of the most popular appetizers at the Shanachie Irish Pub & Restaurant, now celebrating its seventh anniversary. Photo by Eve M. Quattrone.

Or it could be his satisfaction in knowing the role the Shanachie has played as a community center in Ambler’s ongoing growth, enhanced, no doubt, by the popularity of his business partner and co-owner, Gerry Timlin, the beloved Irish folksinger who lights up the pub’s stage two weekends a month with his scintillating live performances.

Or it could be the fact that so many patrons tell him they thought the Shanachie has been there on Ambler’s lively Butler Avenue for 10 or 15 years now.

“We’ve been such a stable and important part of the community,” said Egan, who is also a practicing lawyer and part-time professor, “that most people don’t realize that we’ve only been here for seven years.”

Sure enough: the Shanachie opened in October 2004 and is now celebrating its seventh anniversary. On Oct. 1, the restaurant offered prizes and giveaways to its loyal patrons and there will be several special events throughout its anniversary month.

Some of those events involve the live performances for which the Shanachie is celebrated, including Irish singer-songwriter Fil Campbell on Oct. 6 and award-winning singer-songwriter Craig Bickhardt on the third Thursday of every month. At a date to be announced soon, the Shanachie will host a “Live at Sellersville Theater” CD release party for the esteemed “songwriter to the stars.”

The other reason Egan is feeling so chipper these days is the return of his former executive chef, Paul Brady.

“Paul was our chef earlier this year,” said Egan, “and then he took a position out in Washington state. Fortunately for both of us, that didn’t work out. So he’s back and I couldn’t be happier. Paul is truly invested in the restaurant. He knows his input matters. He even came in one day after a storm last winter and helped clear the snow. And nobody even asked him to!

“More importantly, he’s helped us develop our new menu,” Egan continued. “Our identity from the beginning has been as an Irish pub. But now we’ve tweaked our menu and are calling ourselves an Irish-American pub. We’re still offering the same Irish comfort food that our regular patrons have come to expect and enjoy, but now we’re also offering some lighter items that speak more to today’s diets.”

According to Brady, a self-taught chef who was born in Colorado and moved to this area when he was 12, “We’re trying some different fusions, like the Shanachie Stir Fry [$12, a huge plate of fresh vegetables and rice with a teriyaki glaze]. Even our Black & Tan Roasted Chicken [$16.]” Marinated in ale and stout, the chicken entrée comes with rosemary red bliss potatoes and a vegetable medley.

“The sauce,” explained Brady, “is very special. It’s our take on a classic French bordelaise, but we melt down the chicken bones for additional flavor.”

Then there’s Gerry’s Scallop Salad ($8 as appetizer, $14 as entrée), a lovely plate of pan-seared scallops, red onion, tomato and bacon drizzled with a cider vinaigrette, and the excellent bacon-wrapped Pork Tenderloin ($18), served with green beans and a sweetish apple brandy jus, which Brady says is infused with cinnamon, cloves, honey, carrots and celery with Granny Smith apples and brown sugar.

This entrée is also served with colcannon, an Irish peasant dish of milk-and butter-moistened mashed potatoes mixed with finely chopped cooked onions and kale or cabbage.

Also new to the menu are a Baked Brie appetizer ($9.50) served with roasted garlic, toasted baguette, cranberry chutney and fresh fruit.

Chef Brady, whose resume also includes restaurants in Telluride, Colo., and Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah and a small café in Glenside, said that he never studied at a culinary school.

“I’ve learned to cook by trial and error,” he said, “and by learning from other fine chefs. What I love most is the surprise that I and my guests have on our faces when I come up with a new discovery. The traditional way lacks an element of surprise. But I’m not afraid to vary from the traditional, like trying a sweet potato tarragon.

“I love the connections I make by simply tasting,” he said. “Cooking is like poetry. It’s always new and exciting.”

Aside from Chef Brady’s specials and experiments in lighter fare, the Shanachie still offers traditional Irish dishes that never seem to lose their luster. Among them are appetizers like Brown Crab, Spinach & Irish Cheese Dip ($10), topped with porter cheddar and sided with celery, carrots and black bread; Irish Potato Boxty du Jour (like a stuffed pancake, $8); and entrées like Ulster Fry ($13), a breakfast dish consisting of two eggs, black and white pudding, roasted tomato, bangers (Irish sausages), rashers (bacon or ham slices), beans and brown bread; Shepherd’s Pie ($14), ground beef with carrots, onions and peas in brown sauce with mashed potatoes; Steak & Chips ($19), New York strip, with chips and broccoli in a red wine reduction; and Dublin Seafood Coddle ($18), Irish sausage, bay prawns, mussels and scallops with bacon, potatoes, peas and onions in a savory broth.

Shanachie desserts range from Triple Stout Bread Pudding ($6) and Apple Tart ($6) to Chocolate Lava Cake ($6) and Irish Coffee ($7, Jameson Irish Whiskey, fresh whipped cream and a pinch of brown sugar).

The restaurant also offers sandwiches (like Irish Sausage, $8, and Pulled Chicken, $8.50, served with hickory BBQ, caramelized onions, smoked gouda and Napa cole slaw); a children’s menu ($6.95, including entrée, drink and ice cream); and Sunday Breakfast, featuring everything from Stuffed Irish Toast ($9.95, with cream cheese, fresh berries and Potatoes O’Brien) to “Junkyard Dog” ($9, bangers, bacon, eggs and American cheese on a long roll) and Frittata a la Shanachie ($11.95, wild mushrooms, brown crab, chives, green onions and goat cheese, topped with baby greens salad).

The Shanachie is also a popular site for parties of every kind, including rehearsal dinners, bridal showers, birthday or retirement parties. Egan said he is also pleased at how many loyal regulars return to hold significant family events at his restaurant.

The Shanachie also rings merrily with music. It runs live every Friday, Saturday and Sunday (from 9 p.m. on), plus Thursdays when Craig Bickhardt performs and whenever a special booking can be had. One Sunday a month, Gerry Timlin and his longtime musical partner, Tom Kane, offer a Family Music Day, from 2 to 5 p.m. (Oct. 16, Nov. 13, Dec. 11 — also look for them on New Year’s Eve), and every Tuesday at 8 p.m., the restaurant hosts a traditional session, when any and all traditional Irish musicians are welcome to bring their instruments and take the stage.

The service (such as longtime server Janice Finnegan) is warm and friendly, the décor is as woodsy and bubbly as a traditional Irish pub and the vibe is communal and neighborly. And the menu appeals, more than ever, to the widest range of tastes.

Source: Frank D. Quattrone, montgomerynews.com

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