It’s a short way to Tipperary when you enter O’Neill’s Pub & Restaurant in SoNo.
And you don’t have to be Irish to love the warm and friendly vibe inside what owner Oliver (“Ollie”) O’Neill calls the only authentic Irish pub and restaurant in the region.
“The Soul of Ireland in the Heart of South Norwalk” is his short-hand description.
That’s true enough.
For starters, O’Neill himself is a natural embodiment of that Irish soul with his lilting accent, genial manner and easy charm.
With unfailing courtesy, he greets all his guests and makes them feel at home.
But if an Irish pub’s authenticity is best measured at the bar, O’Neill exudes pride as he explains what sets his Guinness apart.
“We pour it correctly, apply a state-of-the-art draught system – and we serve it in the right glasses,” he says.
The correct blend of gases – carbon dioxide and nitrogen – is critical to the experience.
“It’s stored at 41 degrees and has neither too much nor too little foam,” he says. “The little things make a difference.”
That includes serving the Guinness in Imperial pint glasses of 20 ounces, in contrast with the 16-ounce American pint.
To good-naturedly underscore the point, O’Neill whips out his iPhone to Google “Imperial pint” and then cites the British Weights and Measures Act of 1824, which standardized the British pint at 20 ounces (in the days before Ireland freed itself from the British Empire).
During the day, light floods in from Palladian-style windows on three sides of the dining area, giving a panoramic view of the streetscape. At night, an appreciative crowd fills the bar and spills into the surrounding banks of tables under glowing lights. (During the holidays, O’Neill’s is a favored destination for company and group celebrations in semi-private eating areas.)
Ever since he and a brother opened O’Neill’s at this location 10 years ago, it has been a magnet for those of Irish extraction – and all their friends.
O’Neill grew up the youngest of nine children on a self-sufficient organic farm (“80 acres, 40 cows”) in the rural village of Tipperary in Ireland (inspiration for the World War I tune “A Long Way to Tipperary”). Gaelic study was compulsory through high school.
The menu duly reflects those old-home roots.
His mother, Peg, served her brood of young cow-milkers and farm hands traditional dishes such as shepherd’s pie (although without the organ meats – “We wouldn’t have eaten it!” O’Neill says with a smile) ($12.95). (Peg and her husband, Ned, are now retired from farming but one of their boys has stepped into their shoes. O’Neill makes a habit of returning at least once a year.)
Comfort food reminiscent of Peg’s cooking includes calf’s liver dusted with flour and sautéed in bacon with gravy ($13.95) and traditional fish & chips ($13.95). Bangers and mash (pork sausages and mashed potatoes) are another staple as well as corn beef and cabbage ($14.95) and beef & Guinness stew ($13.95). Gaelic steak is the priciest selection on the menu ($19.95).
The menu is designed to appeal to all tastes and is eclectic. New England clam chowder ($4.95) appears alongside chipotle shrimp quesadilla ($7.95), chicken Dijonaise ($14.95), salmon Florentine ($16.95) and tricolor tortellini (15.95).
O’Neill’s draws crowds with its weekly specials and entertainments. Live bands perform on weekends.
Mondays are for wings & Bud, Tuesdays trivia & sliders, Wednesdays pizza & pitchers, Thursdays pie & pints, Fridays fish & chips. In season, Saturday afternoon is for college football. The Sunday brunch buffet features a carving station and stations for breakfast, lunch and desserts. ($20.95 includes the first Bloody Mary or Mimosa.)
O’Neill’s Pub & Restaurant is located at 93 North Main Street in SoNo. Tel. 203-838-0222.
Source: Nancy Burton, norwalk.patch.com