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Reuben fully atones for Guinnesslessness

Sun., Feb. 28, 2010, midnight

An Irish pub without Guinness is like a discotheque without a DJ. “I’m so sorry, we can’t serve any beer or wine tonight,” apologized the waitress with a hint of exasperation when I walked into Kelly’s Irish Pub to meet the parental units for dinner.

The draught drought was actually through no fault of their own; turns out they ran into a snare during the transfer of the beer and wine license, namely the fact that the county is notoriously slower than molasses when it comes to such matters. More than likely, Kelly’s beer taps will be flowing by the time you read this, but their temporary dry spell was too much to handle for several groups of customers who walked in and did a 360 back out the door after being told of the dire alcohol situation.

Too bad for them, for they missed an opportunity to indulge in some of the most spectacular pub food I’ve come across in recent memory, if not ever. Not everyone was fazed by the lack of booze. For a restaurant that had only been open a little over a week, the place was packed with hungry folks, some of them looking like they’d already dabbled in the Kelly’s experience before and quickly decided to make it a regular haunt.

Some of them may have been holdovers from the prior tenant, Grumpy’s, who transformed the former Laundromat of ill repute into a fine dining establishment only a little over a year ago. There was no need for Kelly’s to do much remodeling, but the décor has changed quite a bit. It looks like the All Things Irish store exploded inside a firehouse, with clovers and leprechauns mingling with memoirs from owner Walter Keith’s years as a fireman back east, including a larger-than-life statue of a hose-wielding firefighter that greets customers at the door.

We were slightly baffled by the large folk-art placard that hangs above the bar with the rather gruesomely un-PC message “Fresh Catch – Dolphin.” Fortunately, dolphin and chips is not among the choices listed on the menu, but nearly everything that was offered sounded terribly tasty to our rumbling tummies.

Kelly’s offers a selection of traditional dinner items, including several fried seafood platters, New York strip steak, and pork loins with potatoes and veggies, but the main attraction is their selection of whimsically named sandwiches. The Blarney is thin-sliced roast beef on sourdough with caramelized onions, horseradish sauce, and melted Swiss and American cheeses. The Prime Minister is positively Thatcher-esque in its grandiosity, with prime rib slices, onions and cheese on a hoagie roll and served with a side of rich au jus. The Philly is exactly what it sounds like, and the meaty Blue brings together grilled chicken, honey ham, bacon and Swiss on a ciabatta roll.

Also desirable and unique is the Sligo, which crosses Thanksgiving with a summer picnic by mating smoked turkey, cranberry sauce, cole slaw, bacon and two melted cheeses on marbled rye.

Initially, we had the idea of each ordering something different so we could steal bites off each other’s plates.

I really had my heart set on trying their signature Reuben sandwich, but my mother had already laid claim to it, so I narrowed it down to a few other options. The “three-scoop salad” caught my attention right away with it’s trilogy of homemade chicken, tuna and shrimp salads served on a bed of greens. The bacon cheddar burger was also howling my name, especially after the waitress sashayed by our table with several of the toweringly huge burgers in hand, but lately I’ve been a little cheeseburgered out.

We had to ask the gentleman at the table next to us what the heck he had ordered after the waitress brought him a miniature mountain of meat covered in white gravy. When he told us it was their open-face Reuben, and that it wasn’t gravy but masses of melted Swiss, all ideas about individuality drifted away.

“Three Reubens, please,” we said, and our waitress returned amazingly quickly with three very hot, heaping plates of fabulosity. I’m not a huge fan of rye bread, but I barely noticed its presence under the piles of tender homemade corned beef and sauerkraut. The dollop of thousand-island dressing that lurked under all that cheese was enough to send me straight into flavor heaven.

Seriously: run, don’t walk, immediately to Kelly’s and try this divine sandwich yourself, as I’m quite unable to summon words flowery enough to describe its glory with any justice. Our meals were so huge that all three of us made it only about halfway through before our full stomachs started waving the white flag of surrender. Still, it was impossible to say no to New York cheesecake, and we were glad we didn’t because it was incredible, light and fluffy like it’s supposed to be but rarely actually is.

The service was fantastic as well, so much so that we almost expected them to offer to bring our cars around to the front door as we were leaving. Valet service or not, Guinness or not, I predict that Kelly’s Irish Pub will swiftly rise to the top of the list of local diners’ favorite destination eateries.

Contact correspondent Patrick Jacobs by e-mail at Previous columns are available online at For more restaurant and nightlife reviews, music commentary and random thoughts and photos, visit his blog at

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