Cider at the Pub! “Sláinte.”
It’s not often that one finds a place where the magic just happens. Three years ago July, my family and I found that magic on the Emerald Isle. We’d decided to go on an international adventure, and thus found ourselves driving along the southwest coast of Ireland in search of trad music and the perfect ale. After first spending a few delightful days sightseeing in Dublin, where we toured such requisites as Trinity Library, the Jameson (pr. Jem-ah-sun) and Guinness factories, and oh, so many pubs, we took a train to Galway where we rented a car to explore the coast. For the duration of our trip, the weather was a balmy 76 degrees and the sky remained a perfect robin’s egg blue. Though our luck manifested itself in terms of great weather and excellent travel plans, what really made the trip was the people of Ireland. We’d heard from many other travelers that the Irish were a lovely, welcoming brood, and nothing happened during our travels to dissuade us from that belief. We fell in love with everything about this beautiful and hospitable place, so much so that Ireland itself became our benchmark for anything in life worth experiencing. Added bonus? We’d all learned how to properly pronounce “Sláinte.” (At a castle, no less.)
When I heard that there was to be an “authentic” Irish pub opening in Oakland, named simply “Sláinte,” it seemed an obvious place to visit next. Sláinte has only just opened, but it has already reached the top of my list for places which are naturally suited to those who wish to experience life to the fullest. The team behind this new offering in Oakland are Chef Jackie Gallanagh and partner Jenny Schwarz (credentials include Hopscotch) and the pair definitely delivers on the promise of invoking an authentic Ireland experience.
Since Friday lunches are a thing at our office, the hubs, his law partner and I all headed out last Friday to Sláinte for a pint and a bite to eat. My first test of authenticity was how was the bar stocked. Having become obsessed with the varieties of ale available in Ireland, most particularly Smithwick’s and Kilkenny Irish Cream, I was delighted to see they had Smithwick’s (pro “Smi’dikks) on tap. To further test the barkeep’s knowledge of Irish whiskey, I marched over to the bar to see if they had my favorite available. To my delight, the whiskey selection at Sláinte did not disappoint. Greenspot is my personal favorite, followed closely by Redbreast Twelve. My brother-in-law and I, having sampled every varietal we could lay our lips on while in Ireland, came away with those two selections, in large part due to the recommendations of many a pubkeep who steered us to the best whiskey, irrespective of price, that Ireland has to offer. As an aside, the most unusual whiskey we tried on our journey was Writer’s Tears, but the best overall remains Greenspot.
Fantastic whiskey selections aside, we had yet to sample the food. On this visit we ordered the entire lunch menu between us. My poor husband had been wondering if he’d ever sample real fish and chips again this side of the Atlantic. We began our repast with an order of soda bread, slathered in fresh butter and accompanied by a few slabs of Irish cheddar. If you haven’t ever sampled soda bread, it’s a dense, moist, toothsome brown bread, that crumbles against the teeth with personality, rather than the crust-prominent character of a classic sourdough, this is peasant bread. It has character. The white cheddar beside it was aged to a lovely crumble, and likewise delicious.
Lunch showed up shortly after. Hubs had ordered his elusive Fish and Chips, and the look on his face when it arrived said success. The slab of golden fried fish was hot, flaky and delectably moist. The chips, too, were still steaming from the frier, the slaw a welcoming bit of color on the plate. The server brought us some malt vinegar and a bottle of the lovely brown sauce found in most Irish pubs, which is a bit like a vinegar ketchup. We opted not to ask for tartar sauce, since it’s not typically used on fish and chips in Irish cuisine, though Chef Jackie will provide it on request. The hubs’ law partner ordered the Shepherd’s Pie, which was tasty. I’ve never really been drawn to shepherd’s pie, but this version, with it’s layers of flavor, I would definitely order for myself, and more than once. I had the Chips and Curry, a simple plate of fries with a spicy curry dip. The curry served here is not too spicy, so those who might be wary of unexpected heat need not be. This bar food is solid, welcoming, and really hits the spot.
After wolfing down our lunches, we decided we couldn’t leave without sampling the Guinness Ginger Cake, which arrived atop a lovely puddle of fresh cream. Ale and ginger are a great combination in a cake, and this was no exception. So-bhlasta!
The Take Away:
Jackie and Jenny have absolutely nailed their Irish Pub. If there’s a “flaw,” it’s that this Irish pub is not yet cluttered with the detritus of living, but there is plenty of time for the place to gather the keepsakes of life that one might ordinarily expect would decorate the walls of an Irish pub. These mementos are not meant to purchased as part of setting the initial scene for customers, but should be the bric-a-brac collected organically, throughout the life of a place that has seen some living. Banners from football games, gifts from patrons, these are the things that will collect over a lifetime of history, and Sláinte feels as though it has a life worth exploring for decades, so let it begin!
Drop in for a pint, break some soda bread with a loved one, and make a cuimhne of your own! I’ve been aching for the experience of Ireland since we left her, and I now know where I’ll be heading when the urge for a pint and some conversation overtakes me. Sláinte!
Sláinte Irish Pub