Dining review

At Irish pub An Poitin Stil, strong spirits and abundant atmosphere

The Baltimore Sun

Irish pubs, like their British counterparts, aren’t typically famed for their stellar cuisine. They’re more likely to be valued for what’s available from the bar and the convivial atmosphere. On that score, An Poitin Stil measures up well.

This popular fixture on York Road for two decades (the name means a still for making illegal booze) delivers abundant atmosphere, conjuring up Ireland as much on the vibrant exterior — the leprechaun entrance beside the front door is a cute touch — as in every nook and cranny of the interior.

There are multiple, atmospheric bars, one adorned with a sign: “Those who drink to forget please pay in advance.”

It all adds up to the kind of carefree place where you feel like spending time with family and friends, which is just what we did one recent afternoon.

We were comfortably ensconced in a cozy room that evoked the front parlor in a modest countryside cottage (my late, sainted mother, whose half-Irish roots asserted themselves at the drop of a brogue, would have adored it).

In contrast to the glum host who sat us, our server could not have been more engaging or proficient. She put us in a great frame of mind. So did the cocktails.

Not that we required any stimulants, mind you. Really. Honest. We were just trying to get into the pub spirit by sampling the pub spirits.

Our gin-and-tonics and old fashioned — all very strong, all very reasonably priced (premium gin under $7 and a Maker’s Mark cocktail for under $9 are steals in my book) — had us feeling so relaxed that we took in stride any periodic reminders of why, as I said, Irish pubs aren’t usually considered fine food palaces.

I hasten to add that the kitchen turned out some real hits, including a quintessential, Ireland-resonant item — corned beef and cabbage. An Poitin Stil’s preparation proved quite satisfying, with a plentiful mound of tender and flavorful beef resting on nicely braised cabbage and boiled potatoes.

Speaking of potatoes, we also found the Irish nachos fun and filling — spud wedges drenched in a hearty cheese sauce, with bacon and scallions adding zest. Another appetizer, chicken tenders, stood out from those you can find at any number of restaurants, with sizable portions of extra-tender breast meat inside a crispy breading.

Given the artful treatment of those tenders, I was all the more surprised at the sight and taste of that venerable, universal pub staple, fish and chips. The over-fried, tough, un-flake-able fish would have trouble passing muster in Ireland or Britain. I’m thinking it had to be a fluke that day (I know you’re expecting a fluke fish pun, but I’ll resist). Bland, greasy fries sealed the disappointment.

Gaelic steak, a respectably tender filet bathed in Irish whiskey sauce, onions and mushrooms, would have left a much better impression had the garlic seasoning of the beef been greatly reduced.

The accompanying colcannon, an Irish comfort food made of mashed potatoes and cabbage, was dry but hearty. We also sampled the champ — a mashed potatoes-and-green-onion dish — and found it likewise short on creaminess.

For each miss, though, An Poitin Stil served up a charmer. The non-Irish-sounding goat cheese salad, for example, impressed greatly with the sweet-tart effect of mesclun greens, grape tomatoes and candied pecans in a raspberry balsamic vinaigrette. Providing the crowning touch were perfectly fried, croquette-like goat cheese medallions.

That sort of attention to detail and flavor also showed up in the desserts, especially a very custard-y peach bread pudding. The peach slices on top tasted canned, but everything else exuded a super-fresh, made-in-house vibe.

Tipping over the sweetness scale were the cinnamon sugar cheesecake rolls, resting in a rather overbearing raspberry sauce and finished off with ice cream— indulgence magnified.

Greater consistency in the kitchen could make An Poitin Stil stand out more, but it’s easy to see why this pub, with its old-country looks and new-country exuberance, has percolated for so long.

An Poitin Stil

2323 York Road, Timonium

410-560-7900, thestilltimonium.com

Cuisine: Irish, American

Prices: Appetizers $7.99 to $12.99; entrees $14.99 to $24.99

Ambience: There’s a lively buzz from a casual crowd in diversely styled rooms that evoke Irish pubs and dwellings.

Service: Cheery and attentive.

Reservations: Yes

Parking: Surface lot

Special diets: They can be accommodated.

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

tim.smith@baltsun.com

twitter.com/clefnotes

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