Monday, August 16, 2010

O’Brothers Proves the Key to Happiness is Low Expectations

O’Brothers Irish Pub
1521 Margaret St.
Jacksonville, FL
Visited August 4, 2010

Beer selection: Great cross section of imports, local beers and Oregon microbrews

Food: Good enough to line your stomach for a night of drinking

I can be somewhat of a stickler about “authentic” Irish pubs.

Lots of them claim the “authentic” label, but really, how authentic can you be if your bartender is named Bruno Goldstein, doesn’t know how to properly pour a Guinness and can’t carry on a conversation about Irish legends like Brian Boru or Paul Hornung?

A few plastic Budweiser shamrocks hanging from the black and white TV, a Notre Dame pennant on the wall and a green sign out front doesn’t cut it.

No, real Irish pubs play real Irish music and are populated by at least a few hosts and patrons who are actually Irish.

The latest gimmick for Irish pubs to prove their authenticity is to claim that the entire bar, booths, stools, fixtures, woodwork, everything, was shipped over from Ireland.

The first time I stumbled into a place that made such a claim, I actually thought that sounded kind of cool.

By the time I’d patronized a half dozen of them, I thought this is what our fiat-money printing-press-obsessed-Federal-Reserve-created house-of-cards economy has led us to. Bar owners willing to ship an entire bar piece by piece across the planet and customers willing to shell out $8 per pint to pay for it all.

I guess that’s why a place with a tongue-in-cheek name like O’Brothers doesn’t get my Irish up.

You know they aren’t going for the Irish purity test.

In fact, located in the edgy, hip, light-in-the-loafers section of a city best know as the birthplace of Ronnie Van Zant, I’m pretty sure I might be the first patron of Irish descent to step foot in the place since it opened a year or two ago.

But that’s OK. In the part of town where hippies go to hide out from rednecks, O’Brothers isn’t trying that hard.

Oh, sure, they have the corporate Irish beer triumvirate on tap (Guinness, Harp & Smithwicks), a few pictures of rolling Irish hills on the walls and a couple dark cozy nooks to enjoy a pint.

But by 7pm, after a long day of zigzagging across America’s largest city by land mass to four meetings, I was ready to relax – even if I was the only one in the state of Florida on this August day wearing a suit.

For an Irish pub, authentic or not, O’Brothers has a good beer selection. The waitress told me the Rogue Dead Guy Ale was just $3.50 per pint.


What a great way to kick off an evening of beer drinking – with one of my favorites! (And the glow-in-the-dark skeleton dude on the big 22 oz bottles is pretty cool too. In fact, an empty, recently enjoyed bottle of Dead Guy Ale is my favorite Halloween decoration. Scares the little trick-or-treaters every time.)

After following up my Dead Guy Ale with two or three Guinnesses, I was starting to get a little hungry.

That’s where the trouble usually begins in an Irish pub.

The Irish are known for good drink, good times and a good way with words.

Good food? Not so much.

So I was intrigued when my waitress handed me a “tapas” menu.

Tapas? In an Irish pub?

Just as I was about to go into a Guinness-fueled rant about serving Spanish food in an Irish pub, I calmed down, took and deep breath and came to my senses.

Of course, O’Brothers doesn’t really serve Spanish food.

They mean tapas in the gimmicky, trendy sense of “small plates”. In this case, small plates of pub food.

The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.

The last thing anyone wants to do is make a big financial commitment to food in an Irish pub. By the third or fourth pint, beer munchies are kicking in. So order a few plates of food, and if you screw up and one of them is lousy, you’re only out four or five bucks.


First up was the “Banger in a Blanket” – basically a big corn dog cut up like your mommy did for you when you were three so that no big blocks of processed pig blocked your esophagus and killed you. It was just okay, with the cornbread part a little stale tasting.

Feeling healthy, I guess, I ordered both versions of green beans – pan seared, with bacon; and fried, with horseradish sauce.

The pan seared version was better in writing than in reality. It was just some string beans with a few bits of bacon and cheese chunks sprinkled on top.

The fried green beans were pretty good – and filling. Not the best fried green beans I’ve ever had, that’s for sure, but you know, they were breaded and deep fried. I mean, what’s not to like?

The best dish, by far, was the “Guinness Mac & Cheese”. I don’t know where the Guinness comes in, but this was some good cheesy macaroni, making me regret not ordering the $10 entre version which the waitress said was four times bigger than my $5 tapas version.

But that’s okay. Even though I spent $20 on food – and another $20 on beer, I felt like I got my money’s worth. It wasn’t like I was expecting the Capital Grille.

And that’s why all Irish pubs could learn a key lesson from a place like O’Brothers.

It’s like maintaining a healthy relationship. Make sure you keep the expectations in check, and you’ll do just fine.

Rating: Would Wear Shirt If It Were Free

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