A sneak peek at the Four Stars column coming up Thursday in 507:
What makes Irish stew different from any other?
If you guessed Guinness stout, you're wrong. It's the Jameson. At least at the Olde Triangle Pub in Wabasha, it's a dash of Irish whiskey in the "old family recipe," according to Karen Mathias, that makes the stew stand out.
Karen and her husband Paul have owned the Olde Triangle, a homey Irish outpost on Main Street, for eight years, and the traditional stew is a big seller year-round. Karen says she makes about 15 gallons a week, and she's stocking up for the day-long Irish party that's coming up Saturday in Wabasha. They're celebrating St. Paddy's Day just a wee bit early, with the annual parade, live music all day, and lots of good Irish food and drink.
The Triangle's menu says the stew features lean sirloin tips, but they're fall-apart tender, pink like long-cooked pot roast, and the Jameson adds just a hint of peaty smokiness, if you use your imagination. Mainly it's a light, healthy warm-up on an early spring evening, served with heavy brown bread.
I always look forward to stopping at the Triangle, which is a tiny slice of the Emerald Isle tucked among the historic buildings on Wabasha's main street. Also on the menu are three other ways to go Irish on St. Patrick's Day: shepherd's pie, a pile of not overly mashed, homemade potatoes, cabbage and scallions topped with the beef, veggies and gravy; bangers and mash ($8.75), the oddly named combination of sausages and mashed potatoes; and a traditional fish and chips ($8.75), with cod loins in a light batter.
If you're not sure you're Irish, or where your family came from, there's a helpful map of Ireland on the wall with all the clans and variant spellings. (I'm a Casey, by the way, which is like being a Thompson in Minnesota -- I have no idea what clan or county I'm from, but I'll have plenty of time in retirement to figure that out.)
They also have Irish stew at Whistle Binkies in Rochester -- in fact, they have the same quartet of Irish delectibles that are on the menu at the Triangle. The Binkies stew ($8.95) has big chunks of sirloin and a heavier broth, with garlic toast for mopping up. Needless to say, Whistle Binkies has plenty of Irish beer to choose from as well.
This isn't an exhaustive list of places to find Irish beer and pub food, but there's O'Neill's Pizza Pub in the Crossroads Shopping Center, which has one of my favorite arrays of Irish and U.K. tap beers, and among the 150-some bottles of whiskey on the wall at Half Barrel Kitchen & Bar you'll find a few unexpected versions of old Irish favorites. At Daube's Bakery, they'll have Smashed Pea and Barley Soup, Shepherd's Pie, Bailey's Irish Cream Cheesecake and more.
If you know of other food and drink to make Irish eyes smile next week, call me and I'll get the word out.
The Olde Triangle is at 218 Main St. W. in Wabasha, and there are two Whistle Binkies, the Olde World Pub at 3120 Wellner Drive N.E. and the one on the lake, at 247 Woodlake Drive.
Tastes like chicken
After my wisecrack a few weeks ago about my wish to never eat frog legs, whether at the new Tado Steakhouse at Treasure Island or anywhere else, a reader posted this on the PB 507 Facebook page:
"You mentioned that you would never eat the frog legs at a steakhouse you reviewed. Wow! That might be the best dish on the menu. Trust me -- have at least one leg, as they are deep fried, and request drawn butter to go with it. You will be very, very surprised! If you ever see alligator or snapping turtle, try that sometime, too. They're also great."
Sorry, but I just added alligator and snapping turtle to the list of things I'll never eat. I applaud this reader's adventurous appetite, though.
Four Stars of Lamb
For next week's column, I wanted a seasonal theme of some kind. March typically comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb; I'm not interested in eating lion, but lamb is another matter. I know of a few excellent places for lamb chops in Red Wing and Rochester, and I'll rack my brain for a few more.