St. Stephen's Green's borrows its name from a 300-year-old park in Dublin. The 22-acre common was laid out, fittingly, by the great grandson of Arthur Guinness.
Both owner Erik Barry and general manager Des Whelan hail from County Wexford south of Dublin, which borders the Irish Sea. While the two share Irish roots, they met here, through a mutual friend.
Barry, whose day job is in high tech, bought the pub, formerly Fibber Mcgee's, in 1999. He brought in Whelan eight years ago to manage the spot. Whelan gained his restaurant experience in Dublin, London and Frankfort before deciding California was the place to be.
"We've gone from a pure Irish pub, catering to Irish people and blue collar workers, to more white collar office people. From Irish appeal to American appeal," said Whelan. "In the beginning, we catered to adults, now we encourage families and even have a children's menu."
Not to give the wrong impression, St. Stephen's is solidly adult-themed. Besides the myriad of television sets, there are DJs on weekends, early and late happy hours, Peruvian nights, Irish nights, and an online calendar full of events. The pub is on Facebook, has an ATM on the premises, and boasts a late night food menu. There's a lot going on.
Physically, everything is sturdy inside St. Stephen's Green, from the tables and chairs to the hearty fare turned out by the kitchen. Lest anyone forget where they are, there is a digital countdown to St. Patrick's Day that starts March 18 and subtracts every day, hour and minute until the next shamrock celebration.
The menu is straightforward, nothing frilly, nothing fussy, but almost everything is nourishing and well prepared. The waitstaff, many with bouncy Irish lilts, are attentive and efficient.
The bucket of onion rings ($6.50) were plump, crispy, hot from the fryer, and not overly greasy. We waited several minutes for the rings to cool enough to eat. There was plenty for two to share as an appetizer.
The fish and chips ($12.50) were generous hunks of cod filets, breaded and fried to perfection, golden on the outside, snowy white and flaky on the inside. The chips, or French fries, were thick-cut, crisp and meaty. I was particularly fond of the fries.
Shepherd's pie ($11.95) was a tasty concoction of ground beef and vegetables in gravy topped with a double scoop of mashed potatoes. It was definitely stick-to-your-ribs fare. The meat was tender, the saucing generous and flavorful, with plenty of mashed potatoes to mop it all up.
Irish Stew ($12.95) was loaded with tender chunks of lamb, onion, carrots, celery, and potatoes in a rich brown gravy. Stews are simple dishes but restaurants have a tendency to overcook them, making mush instead of a dish with color, texture and layers of flavor. Here, it's perfectly cooked.
No pub these days, American or Irish, from Curragower's in Limerick, to the Brazen Head in Dublin, to St. Stephen's Green in Mountain View can subsist without a burger on the menu.
St. Stephen's takes theirs to the next step with the build your own burger concept ($9.50). Choices are many — beef, turkey, salmon, buffalo, Kobe beef for an additional $2.45, and a vegetarian option that is already topped with mushrooms, onions, peppers, and Swiss cheese. Each burger comes with a pile of fries; additional toppings available for a nominal charge.
I built a salmon burger with sauteed onions ($.75) and Irish bacon ($2). Irish bacon is made from the back meat of the hog, while American bacon comes from the belly. Irish bacon is similar to Canadian bacon, does not crisp when cooked, is a tad chewier and delivers a load of flavor.
There was a trough of condiments on the table to enrich my salmon burger. After I loaded it up, the bun and patty were too thick to eat. I cut it in half and scrunched the bun to get my mouth around the sandwich. It wasn't the most flavorful salmon I ever tasted, likely mixed with breadcrumbs and spices. The onions and bacon elevated the sandwich though. I had no regrets.
Additional Irish menu items included chicken and mushroom pie, Guinness streak pie, sausage and mash, and mixed grill. Non Gaelic-inspired dishes were chicken, pasta, seafood and steaks along with soups, salads and sides.
Desserts are not house-made but I was encouraged to try the apple pie ($5.50). It came with a double scoop of vanilla ice cream. The pie itself, one of those lattice-topped crusty affairs,was just okay, a touch too sweet, a tad lacking in apples.
As for alcohol, there is a formidable offering of martinis, a so-so wine list, and solid lineup of draft and bottled beers.
Many food items are 40-50 percent off during Happy hour, 5-6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday — a very good deal.
St. Stephen's Green is what a good public place should be — reliable, friendly, a hub of activity serving tasty food and drink at fair prices. Despite its Americanization, I think this pub keeps Irish eyes smiling.
St. Stephen's Green
223 Castro Street
Daily 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.
Sunday breakfast 9:30 a.m-11:30 a.m..
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