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
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LATEST VISIT: 30 August 2019
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Irish Beef Boxty, Black and Blue Steak Salad