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For the Irish, breakfast is serious business

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Let's set one thing straight right away: St. Patrick's Day stereotypes to the contrary, there's nothing green about an Irish breakfast.

"No, nothing will be green," pledges Chris Marquis, chef at Baltimore's Slainte Irish Pub and Restaurant, before pausing for a moment and realizing a stray vegetable might possibly find its way onto the plate. "Nothing will be artificially green, let me correct that," he says.

But green may very well be the only thing not showing up on the breakfast plates being served up by Irish eateries all over the area this weekend. For the traditional Irish breakfast is a hearty meal, a fit send-off for rough-hewn farmers figuring to spend their day in the fields. If your determination to do all things Irish in honor of St. Patrick's Day includes starting off the morning like the Irish do, prepare for some serious eating.

First, there are bangers, an Irish sausage that's a mild but filling meal in itself. Then there are rashers — picture "Canadian bacon meets real bacon," suggests Mick O'Shea's co-owner Stephanie Webber.

Don't forget the black pudding and white pudding. And if you're thinking chocolate and vanilla, think again. This pudding is made from oatmeal and meat; the white one doesn't contain blood.

Then there are fried eggs, baked beans, sliced tomatoes and toast.

Clearly not a meal for the faint-of-heart. Or those with a serious weight problem.

"It's a solid meal," acknowledges Dave O'Sullivan, manager of Harbor East's James Joyce Pub. "I eat it occasionally, maybe once a week. If I ate one every day, I'd probably be in the grave right now."

For some, a breakfast like this is just the thing to help in recovering from a long night of St. Patrick's eve partying.

"People come in for a hearty breakfast," says Rich Hoffmann, manager of Ryan's Daughter across from Belvedere Square, where an Irish breakfast is served every Sunday from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. "And a lot of the time we'll see people coming in for a little hair of the dog, so to speak, after a long Saturday night."

As originally imagined, of course, a hale and hearty breakfast was exactly the point. With a day of rough, manual labor ahead of them, farmers in the Irish countryside knew this could be their only meal until a late dinner.

"Back in the old days, they just stocked up on as many calories as they could get," says Dave Niehenke, Webber's brother and business partner at Mick O'Shea's, which will be serving Irish breakfast from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday. Adds Slainte's Marquis, "It's definitely a tradition, that big, hearty breakfast that they eat before they go out and do whatever it is they're going to do."

Still, it's not the quantity alone that makes an Irish breakfast Irish. Certainly, bacon and sausage are no strangers to Americans; heck, you can get them both at McDonald's. But while the Irish bacon and sausages may look similar to their American counterparts, they taste substantially dissimilar.

"The sausages are different, they have a little different texture," says James Joyce's O'Sullivan, a native of Ireland's County Cork who's spent four years in the United States. The closest American equivalent in taste and texture, he says, is scrapple.

"Blood pudding is sort of an acquired taste," admits Webber, noting it's one she's never quite acquired. "I'm more of a two-eggs-and-toast kind of girl."

At Slainte, where they serve breakfast every day from 7 a.m.-11 a.m., Marquis says the classic Irish breakfast puts him happily in mind of the Emerald Isle, where he attended culinary school. Bangers, blood pudding, boxty (a sort of cross between potato pancakes and home fries) – these are genuine Irish dishes, he says, nothing faux about them.

"This may be the only standard that crosses the pond," he says. "A lot of what we think of as Irish food, it's not really eaten there, it's not really part of their diet. But this is one of the things that is a true Irish dish, not American Irish food."

At the James Joyce Pub, which hosted a brunch last weekend in advance of Baltimore's 58th annual St. Patrick's Day parade, O'Sullivan promises a full Irish breakfast on Sunday from 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. "Lots of blood pudding, lots of bacon, lots of beans," he says.

"It's a little bit of Ireland that's not available in every pub," O'Sullivan says.

As for all those weight concerns? Don't worry, says Hoffmann, of Ryan's Daughter.

"There are a lot fewer fat Irish people than fat Americans," he says. "They are a lot more alive than we are."

Chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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