When my friend David Wagner, author of the spell-binding Rick Montoya Italian mysteries, invited us to dinner at the Shamrock Brewing Co. in his hometown of Pueblo, Colorado, I quickly leapt to the conclusion that Shamrock just might be the inspiration for O’Shea’s Irish Pub, the favorite gathering spot for Rick Montoya and other English-speaking expats living in Rome. I pictured “a decor that could best be described as mid-century modern, that century being the seventeenth” with wood being the dominant feature. My picture included a “professional tavern owner” with an appropriated name, maybe something like Guido Shamrock, would preside over the place.
Shamrock wasn’t much like O’Shea’s. Thankfully, it wasn’t much like contemporary Irish pubs across the fruited plain either. You know the type: the de rigueur Irish name (O’Casey, O’Brien, O’MyGod), tacky green paint with decorative leprechauns leaping around, super-cooled Guinness and lots of that good old-fashioned Irish craic (an old Gaelic term referring to the lively essence of the pub experience). It’s gotten so bad Irish pubs have become a parody of stereotypes, prompting some Europeans to denounce them as “the McDonald’s of the pub trade.”
In terms of look, feel and attitude, Shamrock may not be quite as hoary and timeworn as O’Shea’s but it’s pretty venerable in its own right. Having been founded in 1940, the Shamrock actually reminded me very much of Doyle’s Cafe, an Irish neighborhood haunt in Boston. Though Shamrock is 58 years younger than Doyle’s, it certainly precedes the contemporary Irish pub template. That makes it pretty authentic in my book. Never mind that was founded by the Calantino family, not a very common Irish name, but then neither was “Guido “O’Shea,” the “American pretending to be Irish” proprietor of O’Shea’s in Rick Montoya’s Rome.
Though Shamrock may not have been David Wagner’s inspiration for O’Shea’s Irish Pub, it’s almost as close to his heart as is the fictional watering hole that transported Rick Montoya from Rome to Dublin. Not only is Shamrock within easy walking distance to his beautiful downtown Pueblo home, it’s consistently rated as one of the top-ten best restaurants in Pueblo. That explains why David and Mary, his beautiful better-half, are so very well acquainted with the menu. Their familiarity “saved me from myself” and my tendency to order the weirdest, most obscure sounding dish on the menu. Okay, maybe boxty is just a little obscure…
If lamb is the core of the quintessential Irish meal, boxty is the true test of Irish womanhood. An old Irish rhyme declares, “Boxty on the griddle, boxty on the pan; if you can’t make boxty, you’ll never get a man.” Boxty is a traditional Irish potato pancake whose Irish name “Aran Boct Ti” actually translates to “poor house bread.” Culinary Irish history records that boxty has been around almost as long as the potato itself. Shamrock offers two versions: a beef boxty stuffed with Irish pot roast in a porter ale sauce and topped with Gorgonzola cream and a vegetarian boxty (and I had thought the only vegetarians in Ireland were sheep) stuffed with artichoke hearts, roasted peppers and spinach and topped with sun-dried tomato cream.
Being neither a sheep or a vegetarian, my choice was obviously the beef boxty. Now, to describe boxty as Irish potato pancake would be to sell it short. It’s much more than that and not just in terms of cultural importance. Nor is it delicious solely because of the sum of its ingredients (grated potatoes, mashed potatoes, flour, and buttermilk). It’s got a homey, creamy crepe, comfort food quality. Moreover, boxty is tabula rasa, a blank slate, upon which you can heap other delicious elements, perhaps none as good as Irish pot roast. As if tender tendrils of moist pot roast reminiscent of mom’s Sunday best isn’t enough, the porter ale sauce and Gorgonzola cream alone are worth a trip to Pueblo.
It’s oft been said that “everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.” I’m still waiting for my Irish-Swedish bride to explain how her black and blue steak salad (crisp romaine lettuce tossed with a roasted shallot and peppercorn vinaigrette, Roma tomatoes, Gorgonzola cheese, topped with grilled, sliced sirloin steak prepared medium-rare) is Irish. Gorgonzola is Italian. So are Roma tomatoes. Romaine lettuce is Greek. Maybe it’s the peppercorn vinaigrette that’s Irish. Not that it should matter. This is a fantastic salad with lots of things going on, all of them delicious. The medium-rare steak is exemplary and that breath-wrecking Gorgonzola is addictive.
Throughout dinner, I tried assiduously to worm information from David as to what adventures next await Rick Montoya. He shared a couple of nuggets that whetted my desire for his next novel almost as much as my appetite for another Irish beef boxty.
Shamrock Brewing Company
108 W 3rd Street
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 30 August 2019
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Irish Beef Boxty, Black and Blue Steak Salad
6 thoughts on “Shamrock Brewing Co. – Pueblo, Colorado”
There seems to be quite a bit of beige food in those parts.
Gil, to use a worn out turn of phrase, you had me at the mere mention of David Wagner and his Rick Montoya Italian mysteries. Like you, I’ve read and relished every single one of those books. The latest, “Roman Count Down”, is a prequel that takes us back to Rick Montoya abandoning Albuquerque and his beloved green chile cheeseburgers to move to Italy. Although it’s clear that Rick doesn’t relish the “cuisine” served at O’Shea’s Irish Pub in Rome, David Wagner gives us plenty to chew on with his frequent, mouthwatering descriptions of the food Rick enjoys at many more venerable establishments. I always find myself looking up recipes so I can replicate those delicious Italian specialties at home. Maybe one of these days, David and his wife Mary will compile and publish “The Rick Montoya Italian Cookbook”? We can only hope…
With that said, it’s clear you didn’t leave the Shamrock owing your stomach a grudge! I confess to having visited more than my share of Irish pubs but I’ve never had boxty. Short of wending my way to Pueblo – and having never had a potato I didn’t like – I’ve now added boxty to my list of dishes to make with the onset of colder weather.
This was an excellent review even if I am consumed with envy that you and Kim got to dine with the Wagners. I’m already looking forward to the next Rick Montoya book.
Becky, thank you for your kind words about the books. I’m glad you liked Roman Count Down since it was very different from the others. RCD was fun to write because I was able to throw in a lot more humor. As I wrote in my author’s note at the end, it was kind of “Rick Montoya Lite.” The next one, which will be out in May, goes back to the regular formula of taking Rick to the provinces, in this case to the delightful city of Urbino.
There are so many good Italian food cookbooks out there (most of which I suspect my wife has) that we wouldn’t dare try to write one, but your suggestion is appreciated. Our go-to cookbooks for Italian dishes are always those by the late Marcella Hazan, whom I had the pleasure of meeting years ago in Parma. You can’t go wrong with Marcella.
Becky may be on to something here. According to books industry analyst, Allison Risbridger,
the demise of hardback sales doesn’t necessarily apply to the category of cook books. Cookbook sales for the first six months of 2018 were 21 percent higher than for the first half of 2017. Roughly 17.8 million cookbooks were sold in the United States last year, according to Risbridger. The latest figures (mid-2018 sales) continue the upward sales trend line.
Incidentally, the top-selling cookbook of the year is from DIY lifestyle guru and Fixer Upper star Joanna Gaines. “Magnolia Table” has sold 676,000 copies in the first half of 2018 alone, although Gaines is not a chef and has no claim to culinary fame.
Hardbacks are beating the pants off tablets in the cookbook category, apparently. Evidently, people cooking in the kitchen find it awkward and messy to keep refreshing tablet screens, particularly when they have bolognese sauce dripping from their finger tips.
I don’t know how anyone else feels on this blog but when you go out of state and eat, Gil, I feel a feint feeling of betrayal. In some way, you are two-timing us New Mexicans who aren’t sitting across from the dining table with you and sharing your ex-pat culinary observations.
Be that has it may, the Irish Beef Boxty with grated potatoes, mashed potatoes, flour, and buttermilk makes me salivate faster than a bull-dog in a rendering plant. The gravy sounds like Irish umami. A tactile coating of comfort that says, “tuck me in to an Irish linen comforter and read me a limerick.”
Enough of Ireland and Colorado, Gil. Get your ass back here because it’s chile roasting season for Christ sake’s. How do I know? Wagner’s parking lot was packed today and the air is rife with genus Capsicum.
Coincidentally, treacherous behavior is the theme of my next missive. We went to Pueblo expecting not to be very impressed by its chile. Instead, I’d like to go back and have much more of it. I’m actually not so sure (and this is treachery at the Judas Iscariot level) Pueblo chile isn’t better than Hatch chile. Should Governor Lujan Grisham renounce my citizenship, I might just move to Pueblo.