New Irish pub is traditional but uneven


There's something about the luck of the Irish. Maybe that's why Castlebay Irish Pub in Annapolis charmed us, even though our meal there was far from perfect.

This handsome pub, with classic cherry-wood trim and walls painted the colors of moss and Irish lace, is a newcomer on Main Street. Principal owners Vincent Quinlan, Bill Delaney and his daughter, Theresa Delaney, opened for business last October. Their pub has a traditional feel, with bagpipe and fiddle music playing in the background and Tiffany-style stained-glass sconces casting a soft glow on the walls.

Eventually, the owners plan to brew two Irish-style ales on the premises (the equipment has been delayed for months). In the meantime, there are a dozen beers on tap -- mostly from the British Isles -- which are served in 20-ounce imperial pints.

Be sure to try a tall pint of Harp with a plate of Dublin-worthy fish and chips. At Castlebay, the fish are chunks of fresh Icelandic cod, barely brushed with a thin beer batter and cooked just until golden brown. The greaseless nuggets are served with big wedges of potato, homemade coleslaw and a bottle of malt vinegar on the table.

All the traditional Irish favorites on the menu, including the fish and chips, are under $9. The Irish stew, another of these, is a fine, homey version, with lots of thyme and big hunks of beef, carrots and skin-on potato in a thin, dark broth.

As authentic as those two dishes seemed, the bangers and mash tasted like an impostor, with mild sausages arranged on a pile of mashed potatoes that tasted like they were instant. In an Irish pub? Saints preserve us.

Outside of Irish fare, there are sandwiches, burgers and salads, and, at twice the price, grilled steaks and fish. We tried the grilled salmon with citrus chutney. What we got was a beautiful fillet of perfectly cooked, moist fish, in a honey glaze that was so cloyingly sweet, it was almost unbearable. Fresh steamed broccoli was served with it, but our waiter forgot our salad, among other gaffes he made.

The more unusual Irish appetizers on the menu are all pretty hearty fare: salty, deep-fried strips of prime rib, potato wedges dunked in sweet brown curry, and Welsh rarebit, the traditional melted cheese dip with strips of bacon. None is worth the caloric splurge. The mussels are a lighter alternative, steamed simply with wine, butter and garlic.

For dessert, pass on cold, dry bread pudding. Instead try the not-too-sweet, creamy rice pudding made by the staff or, for something even smoother, an Irish coffee with the perfect proportions of whiskey, sugar and cream.

Castlebay Irish Pub

193 A Main St., Annapolis


Hours: Open for lunch and dinner daily, with Irish breakfast on weekends

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: Appetizers, $3.25-$8.95; entrees, $6.75-$25.95

Food: **1/2

Service: **

Atmosphere: **1/2

Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *

Pub Date: 02/04/99

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