FRIENDLY : The atmosphere is welcoming and relaxed, the food is hearty and delicious, and there’s an excellent selection of brews at Rooney’s Irish Pub.
A longtime friend, Steve Watson, South Central Coast District Manager for Southern Wine & Spirits, invited me to lunch in Orcutt. He was stoked about a new Irish pub that had opened a month earlier. When we arrived at Rooney’s Irish Pub on a recent Friday at 1 p.m., we chose to eat at the bar to avoid the long line waiting for tables; the queue was filled with people of all ages, much like those I’ve stood in at an AT&T Ballpark Giants versus Dodgers game.
As soon as we sat down, Watson told the bartender: “She’ll have the chicken.” I had hardly glanced over the broad menu he had just handed me, and I looked at him in shock. He laughed gleefully and explained, “I had it the last time I ate here and it was so good, I knew you’d love it.” The power of suggestion does nothing to sway me when it comes to my preference for food or wine, but, indeed, I did love it.
PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
While the order was being prepared we were served a complimentary brown paper bag filled with freshly fried potato chips with green-onion dip, all housemade and totally addictive. I was happy the arrival of our lunch interrupted my sinful indulgence. The beer-brined chicken was so tender, juicy, and perfectly spiced, I couldn’t believe it. I can’t count the many times I’ve been served over-cooked chicken, whether it was roasted or grilled. At Rooney’s, I consumed most of it despite the fact it would have satisfied one of the beefy guys at Meathead Movers. The sides were equally delicious: The whole-grain mustard mashed potatoes, not overly creamy, had an excellent texture and flavor; and the sauté of whole cipollini onions and shiitake mushrooms with halved Brussels sprouts, tossed in a herb vinaigrette, would have satisfied me on its own. The large plate full of food was $16, and well worth it.
When Watson ordered the “fresh fish and chips,” he told the bartender: “I’m working my way through the entire menu.” He wasn’t kidding; he’d already dined there several times. The fish dish, $14, came with a huge pile of the house “criss-cut” fries, slaw, housemade pickled vegetables, and tartar sauce. Incredibly, the fish wasn’t the cod or halibut you would typically be served in local seafood houses. That day’s fresh fish was yellowtail tuna, cut into three large strips, coated in Harp’s beer batter, and deep-fried. Watson wasn’t sure he liked it, preferring flakier fish. I tried a piece of the crispy-coated, meaty fish and found it pretty good considering I normally prefer cod, too. It was perfectly fried, not a hint of greasiness. The tartar sauce was excellent, just the right note of tang and creaminess. The servers were exceptionally friendly and accommodating. Not one had a clue I was there to review the eatery. After that impressive experience, I was eager to return and try more of chef Anthony Endy’s California/Irish menu.
PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
Endy was working at the Los Olivos Café when the pub’s owner, Tim Rooney, met him. Endy had also worked for chef Rick Manson, of Chef Rick’s in Orcutt, and chef Julie Roblas at the Wine Cask in Los Olivos. Manson helped Rooney design the pub’s kitchen. Rooney noted: “I took my family to dinner at the Los Olivos Café and everything we tried was phenomenal. When I interviewed Anthony, he was the right fit for our pub. He’s passionate about cooking, and always works at improving his recipes.”
I came upon Endy cooking suckling pigs in the giant smoker outside the pub for the nightly special. He told me he cooks ribs, brisket, and pork roasts in it; it’s big enough to handle all that at once. Everything on the menu, from appetizers to desserts, is made by Endy and his team of cooks. “I have a passion for comfort foods, which goes hand-in-hand with an Irish pub,” the enthusiastic chef explained. “I’m happy to be in a place doing what I love to do."
PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
On my second visit, accompanied by my husband Dan, I loved the crunchy crab cake “tots,” $11, filled with chunky crab. They’re served with sriracha mayo (which also has honey and lime), and an excellent cocktail sauce for dipping. We shared the Loch Duarte salmon, $20, with crisp, roasted potatoes, wild arugula with cucumbers, and red onion, tossed in a soft herb vinaigrette. Endy said he’s trying to keep most of the entrées priced under $20. Everything he serves is plentiful, and sure to satisfy most.
BEGORRAH!: Rooney’s Irish Pub 241 S. Broadway St. Old Town Orcutt, 934-3777 Roooneysirishpub.net
The pub’s beautiful authentic décor with Irish bric-a-brac includes old whiskey bottles and stained-glass windows. The ambiance is warm, friendly, and lively, as it should be in an authentic Irish pub. “The premise for this place wasn’t an Irish theme, we wanted to open a brew pub,” Rooney remembered. “When you have a brewpub that serves food, you automatically have a full liquor license. Our second love is Irish whiskey, and that’s where the idea of the Irish pub came from. We visited Ireland last summer to get a look at the pubs.” Recently retired, Rooney was an investigator who spent 12 years working with the Santa Barbara Police, and 18 years with the district attorney.
Brewmaster Dan Hilker of Santa Maria Brewing Company will be making six styles of beer for Rooney. They hope to have it ready in time for football season, which will draw crowds thanks to seven, large flat-screen TVs in the pub. Each time I visited the pub it was packed with locals. With the good quality food, beer, and wines offered here, Rooney’s Irish Pub is exactly what the neighbors wanted.
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