One of the many things that struck me about Chicago when I moved here was how much more significant St. Patrick’s Day was here than in Portland or anywhere else I had lived. The city’s large Irish population takes these things a lot more seriously than I had expected. The seriousness extends to Irish food, and, more importantly, beer. Empanada Boy and I aren’t really into the St. Patrick’s Day festivities because, for many revelers, they end up turning into an excuse to get rip-roaring drunk each day for the entire week beforehand. Still, we enjoy any culture that celebrates robust ales and hearty food. That’s how we found ourselves eating a late-night dinner at The Grafton Pub & Grill last week.
The Grafton is a neighborhood pub known for serving Irish fare and for having live music most nights. The beer list includes some Irish favorites along with a smattering of craft and run-of-the-mill domestic, Belgians and a few Germans. I was a little unimpressed with the draft selection, especially considering the better-than-your-average-bar reputation of the food here. Empanada Boy ordered Boddingtons, the English pale ale. I ordered a Belgian-style witbier— Blue Moon’s superior cousin— which came in a tall glass with a slice of orange.
For dinner, EB opted for the fried fish, a culinary tradition shared by the Irish and the Wisconsinites. His cod fish and chips (pictured above) were flaky and flavorful with a pleasant, light crust. The coleslaw was too sloppy, and the chips were fairly standard. But the latter came with an excellent curry mayonnaise for a truly British twist. Dipping chips in curry has been popular in the UK for ages, demonstrating the influence of Indian cuisine and culture in the area. I decided to try the shepherd’s pie, a stew of carrots, peas, onions and ground beef. I knew the dish came with mashed potatoes, but I assumed they were on the side and that the pie had an actual pastry crust. As it turned out, the crust was the mashed potatoes, which were scalloped in a way that allowed them to brown on the peaks. The pie filling was hearty and flavorful, but I wasn’t too keen about the texture or flavor of the potato topping. I’ve never been much of a mashed potato person, and the bland, lukewarm, pasty potatoes here did little to convince me.
Just as we were getting ready to leave, the evening’s live music started up. It was a few performers doing bad renditions of Johnny Cash songs. We waited until after the second piece to make a run for it. The Grafton is a great place for a casual beer and dinner, but I wouldn’t trust the live music to inspire the celebratory Irish spirit.
The Grafton Pub & Grill
4530 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625