By Bernie Whitmore

Alas, March! That time of year when everyone wants to be Irish. In anticipation of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, we start favoring all things green and pouring Guinness.

The principle objective is to convince yourself that you have, in fact, descended from the Emerald Isle ~ even if you think Foggy Dew is a carbonated beverage for the confused.

This year, I started my preparation by listening to a recording of James Joyce reciting Finnegan’s Wake. I think I might have understood more at a Bob Dylan concert! But for lyrical cadence and the macabre, you just can’t beat the Irish.

In Worcester, Ground Zero for Irish culture just has to be O’Connor’s Restaurant & Bar. For more than 20 years, Brendan and Claire have been expanding and improving their “project” to the point that their pub restaurant is like a visit to Temple Bar in good ol’ Dublin Town.

On a February weeknight, I invited a friend to meet for dinner at O’Connor’s. On arrival, we found the parking lot packed but were seated after just a few minutes. Molly, our server, got us started with fresh hot dinner buns.

We started with the Irish Oak Smoked Salmon appetizer. Four slices were rolled and presented with a salad of mixed greens, a generous tumble of capers, crisp onion slices and ~ the crowning touch ~ a cup of horseradish sour cream dip. Done correctly, this is a perfect appetizer of multiple textures and flavors. O’Connor’s nailed it in every regard: The salmon was buttery-soft and delicately flavored. The contrasting flavors were ignited by the zesty horseradish.

One of my personal customs when at O’Connor’s is a glass of draft Belhaven Scottish Ale. With a lusciously creamy head that persists to the last drop, its smooth malty flavors taste great through the appetizer and entrée courses. I rank it with Guinness for wholesome goodness.

For my entree, I went full-bore Irish, with Genuine Galtee Irish Bangers ‘n Mash ~ six, super-mild pork sausages slathered with a sauté of onions and nestled aside a mound of red bliss mashed and green peas. Set over a pool of deep-flavored, onion-mushroom brown gravy, it’s hardiness was designed for the working class. And if I’d been out in the cold laboring all day, I would have had a fighting chance of finishing such a large serving.

For shear spectacle, though, the action was across the table with my friend’s meal, Lt. Governor Murray’s Famous & Enormous Beef, Mushroom & Guinness Pie. Yes, the name’s a mouthful, but its towering height and beautiful, golden, flaky pastry dome reminded us of poetry, and we both struggled to recite:

Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish, to set before the king?

That the Guinness Pie has been on O’Connor’s menu for ages never diminishes the excitement of its dramatic presentation. Better yet is the experience of eating it. My friend effused, “If you don’t get full on the tender chunks of beef, carrots, mushrooms and potatoes, they serve a large bowl of mashed potatoes on the side to soak up the rich brown gravy.” I couldn’t resist forking some of the pastry’s edge, where it had baked into the bubbling gravy.

Even though this sounds like a crazy-huge meal, I decided to end it with the Irish Bread & Raisin Pudding. O’Connor’s version of this classic was baked in a bowl with a layer of sticky caramel sauce. Most every spoonful bore a raisin or two and was so piping hot, the topping of ice cream was soon a milky memory.

I’d like to think that O’Connor’s is a finished masterpiece ~ every detail is gorgeous. From the street, its exterior glows with a perfect coat of green, accented with black and plenty of gilt lettering. But I know better. It seems as if Brendan will never be satisfied, and each year, he makes more improvements. When I describe the latest changes to friends, we remark, “There he goes again… he just can’t stop gilding the lily.”

All this is to our rich benefit … go to O’Connor’s Restaurant & Bar soon and leave feeling just a bit more Irish.

O’Connor’s Restaurant & Bar
1160 W. Boylston St., Worcester
508- 853-0789 | www.oconnorsrestaurant.com