Good soups, hot sandwiches

Mar 21, 2001 at 12:00 am
By the time you read this, Rick and the staff will be recovering from a St. Patrick's Day parade crowd that scarfed down five gallons of potato-leek soup, 25 pounds of corned beef (and cabbage) and 35 pounds of that beloved Irish tradition, kielbasa (with sauerkraut). Nothing was dyed green.

Rick's, opened January 1, takes the place of O'Leary's Tearoom, which for 11 years held up the "lace-curtain Irish" end of Corktown's Irish establishments and was always a good place to take your mother.

The front room is now a smoky bar, with Harp, Killian’s, Labatt and Bud Lite on tap. The back room serves good soups and hot sandwiches, some of which, like kielbasa, have nothing to do with Ireland.

O'Leary's charming unmatched, flowered plates are still in use, and owner Rick Richards is continuing O’Leary’s famous Sunday brunches, with quiches, Guinness beef stew and shepherd’s pie. It’s a pub that still serves a full line of tea.

Richards is still testing items for the menu, but he tries not to compete with McNally's around the corner, which serves cold, deli-style sandwiches. I presume he'll keep the hoagies, which are served on satisfying crisp rolls with lots of onions. I liked the Philly steak with sautéed green peppers and Swiss cheese, and the turkey with raw red onions. In the Italian version, though, the salami, ham and turkey are somewhat overwhelmed by the flavor of American cheese.

Also available are Reubens, brats and a tuna melt with Havarti, avocado and red onion. The sandwiches come with salad or some exceptional redskin potatoes. The cook's secret is to roast them with butter, Italian seasoning and steak seasoning, and they come out fine.

One rule of restaurant dining, dear readers, is not to order a dish that's in a totally different category from the restaurant's specialty. Don't pick the nachos supreme in a Middle Eastern place, or pasta primavera in a brewpub. Similarly, you shouldn't expect Rick's Irish Pub to excel at Greek salad or Asian chicken noodle soup. The latter is thick — not light like Asian soups — and the night I boneheadedly ordered Greek salad the lettuce was 100 percent white.

Potato-leek soup, on the other hand, does justice to Ireland's best known tuber, with big, soft chunks of carrot. Just the thing to help you brave the parade.

Chili and Caesar salad are by now common enough that the above-mentioned rule can be ignored. You never know who will come up with good versions of these classics. Rick does a tolerable job on chili if you're not looking for a lot of fire; I think it's nice to actually taste the ingredients. And the Caesar features excellent homemade croutons — they look like bread — though we found the dressing a bit salty.

OK, so I flouted the rule completely and ordered crème brulee for dessert, which is both non-Irish and too delicate to go well with bar fare. A hoagie and a creme brûlée? Rick's version does not have as crisp a crust as it might, but the tart raspberry sauce makes up for this lack.

Here's where sticking to your roots pays off: bread pudding with Bushmill's Irish whiskey sauce. This is a holdover from O'Leary's and is fit for the leprechauns to bury at the foot of the rainbow. That is, it's pure gold.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].