British and Irish pub faire is oft reviled for its meat-n-potatoes blandness and unoriginality, but this is an auld world notion that, perpetuated by American gullibility, borders on slander. While it’s true that certain UK skof can lack immediate desirability (beans on toast, corned beef and cabbage, Cumberland sausage coiled like the small intestine and over a bed of rice, for instance), so does the bulk of American cuisine if you think about it (“frozen” and “preservatives” are hardly buzzwords for appetite). The fact is that pub food, when done right, is bursting with as much flavor as anything from Yeats’s pen, and it pours over your preconceived notions by the ladle. Or at least it does at Killarney’s, as authentic a slice of Ireland as you’ll find in the Empire.
Killarney’s went so far as to replicate a favorite Irish pub—Dick Mac’s in Kerry, Ireland—when designing its Temecula location, and within its walls is the old pub craic (which is a common term in Ireland meaning “spirited abandonment”). Ever wanted a Guinness but feared the bartender would botch the pour? Won’t happen at Killarney’s, where your Guinness is poured in two patient installments, the golden cascades of the second tipping you off to the thoughtfulness (and delicacy) taken in the job. There are 20 beers on tap to get you good and buckled, if that’s your mission, and plenty of smoky, peaty Jameson in the bar for the slow-burn tilter. But these libations are merely complements to the aforementioned food.
To be somewhat ballsy, I began with the Harp beer-battered Killarney’s balls, which are crispy morsels of fried fish or white-meat chicken and dipping sauces. You can select from the spicy or beer-batter coats, but the house tells you to go with the beer-batter—and so I did. It’s a good choice, as the faint sourish flavor of Harp ale gets into the juices of the chicken and makes for a surprisingly delicious pairing. Wanting to be at least mildly adventuresome, I jumped straight the Irish Faire page on the menu and choose one the Boxtys—a potato pancake made into a sort of flaky crêpe which is filled with your choice of corned beef & cabbage, chicken, vegetables or the one I went with, the shepherd’s pie. The former three are finished with a housemade whiskey cream sauce, while the shepherd’s pie is slathered with a tasty Irish beef sauce. The traditional boxty, as the menu alludes to, was created from necessity in the Great Irish Famine of the mid-1800s that wiped out 25% of the population, thus rendering each bite a savory, contemplative one—not unlike when your parents would tell you of the starving children in Africa in getting your to finish your plate. There’s also the ubiquitous bangers & mash (made of Irish pork sausages), a slow-cooked Guinness beef stew, the standard shepherd’s pie with lean beef, that same Harp beer-battered fish and chips (North Atlantic cod instead of haddock), and the stand-by corned beef and cabbage.
If you are all about holding close to your American familiarity, there are a host of burgers to choose from (the lisdoonvarma burger with corned beef and provolone the most tempting), as well as soups, salads and entrées, such as the Irish curried chicken bowl and the pub tacos.
And, if you’re worried about hot-blooded Irish danders getting up in the nighttime hours, this family pub will sooner break out in song than a “donnybrook” (just as with Irish Irish pubs from Belfast to Cork)—all the short-tempered gurriers are held in check, and such things are largely the misguided figments of inventive minds. (In backing up this claim as fact, I point out that there are live bands at both locations performing regularly). Killarney’s is more about the pub craic, the food, and the perfectly poured Guinness—and for that, wassail, wassail!
Killarney’s Irish Pub & Grill, 3639 Riverside Plaza Dr., Riverside, (951) 682-2933
Killarney’s Irish Pub & Grill, 32475 Highway 79 South G101 Temecula, (951) 302-8338; www.killarneys.com; 11am-midnight Sun.-Thurs. and 11am-1am, Fri.-Sat.