A touch of Ireland, by way of Nepal
The area behind and below the Sullivan Square T station can look post-apocalyptic. Above, there’s a constant rumble from the soaring Interstate 93 and Route 26 overpasses. The proximity to water and the general desolation ensure a constant cold wind. And, for the odd pedestrian, crossing multi-lane Cambridge Street is a chancy affair.
The scattered businesses in the area are, to be charitable, neither flourishing nor inviting. Where elsewhere it would be kitsch, a sign outside one shack-like structure seems appropriate: “The Tavern at the End of the World.’’ And, as happens in mythical refuges, inside it’s inviting, impossibly spacious, and packed with music and laughter. The food is great, and the people are having a fine time.
The tavern is a classic Boston Irish pub with some odd and pleasant surprises. Owner Raymond O’Neill, originally from County Cork, opened it two years ago with a menu that includes bangers and mash (Irish pork sausages and mashed potatoes), chowders, and other standards you would expect. The fish and chips ($11) are the best I’ve had at a pub: light, crisp, and obviously fresh (it’s local cod). A connoisseur’s selection of a dozen draughts, and some 50 bottled beers, spotlight worthy New England, Quebec, Irish, and British brewers. Ingredients are locally sourced and organic “whenever possible,’’ says O’Neill.
Dishes are plated with such elegance that you have to wonder who’s in the kitchen. It’s Ghanashyam Raila, who developed his culinary skills at the other end of the world — working 12 years in resort kitchens of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and as a chef at that US territory’s Hard Rock Cafe. He and the rest of the kitchen staff are all natives of Nepal, so you find their own specialties from home on the menu.
The Tavern is a rare opportunity to see how authentic Nepali curries pair with celebrated local beers (I tried many in the interests of research). Clean strong beers like Pretty Things’ Jack D’Or (from Cambridge), and Unibroue’s La Fin du Monde (Quebec) complement the unique and pleasant spices in the curries. Fish curry ($8) features cod with cauliflower, potatoes, zucchini, peppers, celery, and onion. In a strong brogue, O’Neill explains that the Nepali version is “more complex than curries that are simply hot, like tandoori.’’
Your less adventurous companions can still enjoy Irish toasties (grilled cheese sandwiches). Variations may involve brie, cranberry, and fresh salmon. Sides, even coleslaw and potato salad, are delightfully mayonnaise-free.
The reality check may come at dessert. The only choice is an Irish Mars bar toastie ($7), in which a deep-fried bar appears on a waffle with whipped cream and strawberries. It’s not organic, locally sourced, or worldly. But it is good with beer.
Ike DeLorenzo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.