A visit with an old friend at the Irish Rover

I will always remember the first meal I ever ate at the Irish Rover. It was sometime in the mid-1990s, and I met some local Celtic-band musicians there to do an interview. I was warmed by the atmosphere and by my first order at the place, Welsh rabbit with Irish chips.

More than two decades later, I’m still a Rover regular, and the place has changed so little over the years that it feels like it hasn’t changed at all. I’m sure it has, but I would be at a loss if I was asked to point out specific changes from the first time I stepped foot in it. That’s part of what makes it so comfortable.

And as warming and welcoming as it is, I additionally find that one of the few respites from cold weather each winter season is the Irish Rover’s Guinness stew. I’d not had the stew yet this winter, until a recent chilly afternoon when I stopped in for lunch with my parents, who are Rover addicts, thanks to yours truly.

My mom and I didn’t even have to look at the menu and, to be truthful, neither did my dad. He’s a fish and chips guy, through and through, while it’s always Guinness stew for mom and me, at least if it’s winter. I decided I would pay special attention to this meal, just to try to ponder whether the stew’s quality remains the same all these years later.

In short, yes, it does.

But I found myself picking out details I’d not noticed in recent years, thanks to my being so used to the hearty stew. One of those details was the thickness of the gravy. The roux in this particular batch was so thick that the gravy almost held a shape; it served to boost the flavor, and it served to bind together the basic ingredients of chunks of potato, slices of carrots and big hunks of beef.

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One of my favorite parts of the stew is dipping the sourdough bread, provided with every meal, into the gravy, which is something I tell myself helps double down on the flavor. By adding a vehicle for the gravy, my taste buds reason, I can extend the flavor experience. I may be fooling myself, but that’s OK with me; this is, after all, my comfort food experience, and no one else’s.

Next, I focused on the prevalence of the basic ingredients. During one trip to the Rover, my mom’s friend got a batch of Guinness stew with only one piece of meat. It’s a luck-of-the-draw type thing that can happen to anyone, I suppose — it all depends on where the ladle lands when it goes into the pot to retrieve your meal.

On this day, I hit the beef lottery. This particular bowl was not only filled to the point of being piled above rim level (another testament to the thickness of the gravy), but it seemed to be nearly two-thirds beef. Since each piece of beef seemed to be a knuckle-size chunk or larger, it easily outdistanced the thin carrot slices.

Yes, the potatoes were cut roughly as large as the meat, but I noticed that, without trying, I could get three or four random spoons full of nothing but meat and gravy. Hey, I like all the ingredients, but when you’re eating beef stew, you want the emphasis to be on beef. The Rover’s stew typically comes through in a big way in that regard.

By the time I found myself three-fourths of the way through my $6.95 bowl of goodness, I realized I was getting full. Maybe I overdid it on the bread? Because how on Earth did a seven-dollar lunch become so filling? That preponderance adds a layer to why I keep going back to the Rover and the Guinness stew, because for my money, there’s not a better value on the menu.

Do I long for spring? Yes. I’ll forgo the stew for a few months in exchange for sun and warm weather. But until spring has sprung, you can find me at the Irish Rover with a belly full of beef. Please pass the sourdough.

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