The most important thing about an Irish pub is the vibe. A good Irish pub has to be a warm and friendly place to gather.
It must have spaces where folks can mill about and laugh and talk together. Even the beer selection doesn’t need to be that extensive as long as they have Guinness and a fun place to drink it in. Cara Irish Pub and Restaurant is a great place to gather and they have more that just Guinness on tap too with a good pub menu that features traditional Irish fare.
Cara’s is in a dramatically revamped old brick building that seems to have been designed for many purposes. There is the bar, of course, but also an area our bartender, Peter, called the Conversation Room, a place for folks to sit but mostly stand around and have lively yes, conversations in. I noticed that there were many people there over 35 and Peter told me that was usual. Later on when the music starts at 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays (Tim McCoy and Friends was there recently) younger people do come. There were even older people in the small but more isolated dining room. So, yes, it’s a good place for people of a certain maturity.
Peter also filled us in on the complex sound proofing system that uses special glass to separate and buffer sound from the bar to the dining room. It seems to work fairly well. There’s a stage and high tops nearby and an entire back room has a pool table and darts. All the spaces have TVs but they’re hidden in creative ways so only people sitting in each area can see them. I admire the thought that went into all of these elements.
They do have a full bar and a decent tap list including some local brews and of course, Guinness as well as a good selection of Irish whiskey. It’s not an eclectic, daring brew list but good for an Irish pub and fine with the creative pub fare. We ordered one of the special appetizers, mac and cheese bites with jalapeno, which were deep fried. It’s a lot of food and I’d have this more as a bar snack rather than an appetizer. I have to note that the bites and our appetizer of black and tan chicken in foil — dark meat chicken in a beer and teriyaki marinade slow cooked in foil were both skipped and our entrees came out before they did. Peter apologetically explained how it happened and since he’s a very attentive and accomplished bartender it just seemed fine.
On another visit it all worked out so it seemed just a fluke. Frankly, I was glad to be able to just dine on all of our food at once because I didn’t think either the bites or the chicken were appetizer fare they were so substantial. A ploughman’s platter with fruit, veggies and cheese are good to share while deciding on dinner, as are mussels with a tangy Guinness broth ($9).
For entrees, there are more traditional Irish dishes like bangers and mash, three huge juicy sausages atop a pile of creamy mashed potatoes ($13) Get the side of Mother O’Dowd’s carrot, turnip and parsnip medley, a crock of veggies that taste just like what comes from one of my Irish stews (it’s good, I promise), and only $3. The mashed potatoes are this Irish woman’s dream (OK, one-fourth Irish), buttery and with a hint of pepper. I didn’t need to drench them in more butter, which is a rarity for me. The bacon and cabbage is similar, with a nice pile of mashed potatoes, a very thick slab of Irish bacon (like our ham) and I mean thick, lightly crunchy cabbage and a light parsley sauce with some whole grain mustard for dipping ($12). It’s a good, hearty, wholesome meal. There are plenty of other sides like sauteed apples, herbed risotto and buttered cabbage all in the $3-$5 range.
Fish and chips are excellent. Panko crusted and extra crispy with light flaky fresh fish inside and hand cut fries, which could have been a tad crispier but are otherwise very good. Get simple salmon with lemon butter and risotto or one of their specials of the night like blackened scallops or swordfish with a watermelon salsa. A simple grilled strip steak comes with caramelized onions and mushrooms comes with a creamy peppercorn sauce, the fries and fresh greens. It’s a good sized steak for just $22.
Lighter fare includes an Angus cheeseburger and a BBQ short rib sandwich. Desserts include a lava cake and Irish cream cheesecake. I didn’t try any dessert. They just didn’t sway me but the lava cake looked good coming out of the kitchen.
The food is good but the people are the reason to come to Cara’s. It’s a good local crowd, lively and willing to talk to strangers, just like any Irish bar should be. The staff is very attentive. There are plans to expand the upstairs to include a larger venue for dinner theater, comedy and music, but it’s the music of happy voices that make this place shine.