Read the table tent placards at the Two Fools Tavern and you’ll learn that this is where the craic is mighty. An old Gaelic term pronounced “crack”, craic refers to the lively essence of the pub experience, a unique and sometimes loud combination of good friends, good times and of course, good pints. Craic is a word for which there is no exact English translation even though there are some 9,000 pubs in the Emerald Isle. In Ireland, pubs, or public houses, are a focal point of the community–as much as the local church. It’s where friends gather for camaraderie and commiseration.
The sale and consumption of alcoholic libations is perhaps the pub function with which most Americans are familiar. Most public houses offer a range of beers, wines, spirits and soft drinks with beer tending to be the most popular adult beverage. In recent years, serving food has become a more important function of the public house throughout the British Isles. Yeah, I know what you’re saying. Good food at an Irish pub is an oxymoron.
When it comes to the culinary arts, Ireland (just like England) is the Rodney Dangerfield of Europe; its cuisine receives absolutely no respect. Irish food is regarded as bland and unimaginative, especially when compared with the haute (and haughty) cuisine of France. Having spent three years in England partaking of wonderful pub food throughout the British Isles, I rise to the defense of this maligned region’s food, especially “pub grub” which is actually quite good. Even 30 years ago, we found many pubs serving restaurant quality meals.
A defining element of a pub’s identity is its exterior signage. Public houses throughout the British Isles have been required since the 12th century to erect signs outside their premises. Typically, a pub’s signage will include both the pub’s name and a graphical element (essential because in the Middle Ages, a large percentage of the population was illiterate). A pub’s name and graphical identity tell a lot about its character. The name Two Fools Tavern along with its graphical identity of two harlequin-style buffoons seems to convey a fun and relaxed ambiance. In that respect, it fits right into the Nob Hill district.
In the British Isles where I’ve seen pubs named The Spread Eagle and Cow & Snuffer’s, the name Two Fools probably wouldn’t warrant a double-take, but it’s pretty unique for Burque. The Two Fools Tavern exemplifies the Irish pub concept that in recent years has caught on like wildfire in America. It’s a concept not without its detractors. One European Web site denounces the “Irish Pub Plague,” equating the Irish pub template as “the McDonalds of the pub trade.” Talk about no sense of humor.
The Two Fools Tavern could not possibly hope to duplicate the authentic Irish pub experience (especially not without the garrulous Irish), but it’s about 4700 miles from Dublin for gosh sakes. For Anglophiles like me, it’s only a few miles away and for that we’re grateful. Besides, the Two Fools Tavern provides just about the most European feel of any tavern in Albuquerque. It’s possible American culture will never lend itself to any pub becoming a social hub for an extended community, but most visitors should enjoy their experience and even the food.
From the outside, the Two Fools Tavern could pass for a pub in the British Isles with its bright blue facade, potted plants in box-shaped planters, Old English signage and Tudor style use of wooden planks. The theme continues inside the pub where dark wood accents and Irish bric-a-brac add a homey but masculine feel. Even the small, stylish tables and chairs are traditional and lend an authentic Irish feel. The Tavern is the braintrust of entrepreneurial Tom White and the fine folks who have given New Mexico such dining establishments as Scalo’s Italian Grill, Pranzo’s Italian Grill (Santa Fe) and Il Vicino.
Adult libations include Guinness, the world-famous Irish beer brewed since 1759. At only ten calories per ounce, Guinness (which claims to have bottled the craic) is the favorite beer of the Emerald Isle. Also available are beers brewed in New Mexico, Mexico, England, Oregon, Holland and Ireland. On tap are Magners Irish Cider and other popular favorites.
The menu is more akin to what we were familiar at Irish restaurants than what most pubs serve. That means such appetizers as Scotch eggs, hard boiled eggs encased in sausage and covered in bread crumbs then deep-fried to a golden brown and served with pub (Boar’s Head) mustard. Contrary to its name, Scottish eggs are far from being Scottish. They were originally created in 1738 by a London-based department store. More often than not, Scotch eggs are served cold and even though that isn’t the case at the Tavern, these are more than passable. The sausage is mildly spicy with notable herbaceous qualities and the bread crumb covering is not too thick and has a crispy texture. The hard-boiled egg is perfectly prepared.
Another appetizer which honors Irish ingredients and traditions is the Cashel blue cheese dip served with housemade Irish brown bread and Irish potato chips. Cashel blue cheese is the original Irish Farmhouse cow’s milk blue cheese and one of the few blue cheeses made across the British Isles. It’s a soft, mild blue cheese which is quite a contrast to the much stronger Stilton cheese. The Two Fools dip is creamy, rich and just slightly salty. The housemade Irish potato chips are formidable enough to scoop up generous portions of the dip without breaking. These are terrific chips, much less salty than many restaurant chips. Then there’s the Irish brown bread which, being quite dense doesn’t so much sop up the dip as it does serve as a vehicle upon which to spoon the dip.
For generations, the most popular working class take-away food has been fish and chips which in Ireland are usually served in paper-bags with grease-proof inner-lining. Not surprisingly, fish and chips are the most popular item on the Two Fools menu. At the Tavern, fish and chips are served in a platter with a faux newspaper lining. Portion sizes range from “one and one,” the traditional Irish way of ordering one piece of fish with chips. You can order as many as three pieces of fish with chips if you’ve got a larger appetite. The fish is a house ale-battered haddock. It is lightly battered to a golden brown hue.
Diners in Ireland normally eat their chips with salt and vinegar. The chips at the Tavern are very much Americanized (thin and crispy) and don’t sop up the vinegar as well as the flaccid white potatoes used for chips throughout the British Isles. Still, good fish and chips in America are hard to find and these are better than we’ve had at other so-called Irish taverns in New Mexico. The homemade tartar sauce is equally sweet and savory and in the whole, very good (though you can also drench your fish in vinegar as we did). Served with the fish and chips is a sweet coleslaw with tangy bits of apple. It, too, is quite good.
On Sundays, a traditional all-day Irish breakfast is a welcome sight indeed. If you’ve never had an Irish breakfast, you’re in for a real treat. At the Tavern, this breakfast consists of two eggs cooked your way, Irish rashers (bacon), breakfast bangers (sausages), mushrooms, grilled tomato, black and white puddings (sausage made from pigs’ blood, suet and seasonings) and Irish brown bread.
Irish rashers is an elite class of bacon, some of the very best in the world. Rashers are made with a meatier belly cut than the streaky American bacon and have an almost ham-like appearance. Even in the British Isles, many people never acquire a taste for black and white puddings based solely on its composition. Seasoned well, these puddings can become addictive. Among the seasonings easily discernible on the Tavern’s pudding is allspice which has a taste reminiscent of cinnamon or nutmeg. For a pittance you can add English baked beans to the Irish breakfast. Unlike American baked beans which use molasses, English baked beans are made with a tomato sauce. It’s what we enjoyed least in our meal.
One section of the menu is entitled Sandwiches That You Will Like, just like the wonderful book written by my great friend Becky Mercuri and the terrific PBS special from the uber-talented Rick Sebak. Whether coincidence or to take advantage of the popularity of a book and video every serious foodie should have, the menu does indeed have several sandwiches to like. The Paddy O’ Malley Melt, a fresh, hand-formed eight ounce all-natural beef burger dressed with grilled onions, 1000 island dressing and Swiss on grilled rye bread is certainly near the top of that list. The grilled rye bread is a wonderfully flavored canvas for the generous toppings though it wilts and droops on account of their moistness. Two Fools is a rarity in that it will prepare your burger to your exacting degree of doneness (a nice pink center at medium).
The Traditional Favorites section of the menu showcases such favorites as the Ploughman’s Lunch, bangers & mash, fish and chips, corned beef and cabbage and a Guinness beef boxty. The latter is two housemade potato pancakes filled with slow-simmered Guinness beef stew. The Two Fools rendition is quite dissimilar to the boxy dish offered by O’Niell’s Irish Pub, but it is no less delightful. The Guinness beef stew is especially noteworthy. It’s the type of stew that’s especially heart-warming on a cold wintery day when a cold, tired body seeks the warmth of comfort food. The Guinness-based beef stock is rich and savory, so good you would enjoy it by itself. You won’t have to because the the stock is replete with carrots, potatoes and onions, all perfectly prepared. The potato pancakes have a lot more elasticity than most potato pancakes which tend to fall apart easily.
Five homemade sweets are available with which to finish a grand meal. The bread pudding, made with Bailey’s Irish Cream and Jameson whiskey sauce is roughly the size of a small meatloaf. It’s big enough for a family of four to share, but so good the most you might want to do is give your dining companions a small spoonful so they can see for themselves how good it is. Unlike so many bread puddings this dense, this one is very moist, courteously of the apple slices and sultanas baked right in. The Jameson whiskey sauce lends its distinctively smooth characteristics. Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, likes this bread pudding enough to place it on his bread pudding hall of fame. It’s well worthy!
Few desserts in the Duke City warrant being carded to verify your age. Two Fools’ Scotch Ice Cream can only be enjoyed if you’re 21 years old or more seasoned. That’s because it’s topped with Auchentoshan triple wood Scotch and coffee liqueur. Even to read about this unique single malt Scotch whiskey on the Auchentoshan Web site, you’ve got to be of legal drinking age. Scotch ice cream is a wonderfully indulgent adult ice cream coupling the sweet richness of a very good vanilla bean ice cream with two smooth adult beverages. There’s enough Scotch and liqueur to be noticeable, but certainly not enough to make you tipsy in the least. It’s an ice cream so good you’ll wish you could buy it by the half-gallon.
About the only thing missing at the Two Fools Tavern are the ubiquitous dartboards you find in public houses throughout the British Isles. Certainly not missing is a lively ambiance that while not entirely authentic is about as close as you’ll get in Albuquerque.
Two Fools Tavern
3211 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 17 November 2012
1st VISIT: 19 August 2007
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Fish and Chips, Scotch Eggs, Bread Pudding