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Globe Northwest Dining Out

Authentic taste of Ireland

The fare is strictly Irish, like this boiled dinner. ''We try to keep this like a traditional Irish pub, which is fading out in Ireland,'' says Murphy, whose parents own a bar in County Kerry. The fare is strictly Irish, like this boiled dinner. ''We try to keep this like a traditional Irish pub, which is fading out in Ireland,'' says Murphy, whose parents own a bar in County Kerry. (Photos by maureen costello for the boston globe)
March 29, 2009
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The Old Court Irish Pub and Restaurant
29-31 Central St., Lowell
978-452-0100
Kitchen open Monday through
Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Major credit cards accepted
Accessible to the handicapped

To those unfamiliar with downtown Lowell, a search for the Old Court Irish Pub and Restaurant may lead you to circle the two active courthouses near the Lowell Connector.

However, the stately brick building has nothing to do with the justice system, nor does the pub's name, which comes from a 400-year-old unfinished castle in County Cork. "Its name is Kanturk Castle," said co-owner Jerry Murphy, referring to the Irish landmark, still awaiting a roof and known to the locals as the "Old Court."

No worries. The Old Court this side of the Atlantic has a roof, as well as seating for 65, a full-service bar offering Guinness, hot toddies, and Irish whiskies, and plasma televisions. Murals depict Celtic knots and images from the Book of Kells, a beautifully illustrated manuscript of the Latin gospels found in an ancient monastery.

Murphy and Finbarr Sheehan, a native of County Cork, opened the Old Court in 2001, drawn by the city's mission to upgrade its downtown. It was slow beginnings before a regular clientele discovered it. "We try to keep this like a traditional Irish pub, which is fading out in Ireland," said Murphy, whose parents own a bar in his native County Kerry.

Keeping with Old World traditions, Guinness is the number one seller at the bar, and each draft is poured to industry standard - filled three-quarters full, then allowed to settle before being filled to the rim in a tulip glass. The Irish are not famous for their wine selections, probably because wine doesn't pair as well as beer with Irish fare. Choices here include California's Jacob's Creek merlot, Australia's Yellow Tail chardonnay, and Italy's Villa Albola pinot grigio.

We began our meal with a cup ($1.95) of potato leek soup, which our waitress told us up front was "more brothy than creamy." The soup was a smooth blend of the two vegetables (maybe a bit more leek). The Old Court house salad ($3.95 small, $5.95 large) of fresh romaine lettuce, tomato wedges, cukes, bell peppers, and red onion was fresh, colorful, and crisp.

I can vouch for the popularity of the Famous Fish and Chips ($12.95), the pub's top seller. A large piece of fresh haddock was fried in a batter of Sam Adams and Guinness. I am not a fan of fried foods, but the batter was so light it did not overpower the taste of fresh fish. This was served with cole slaw and french fries.

Another popular item is the corned beef dinner ($9.95). Boasting heaping portions of tender red meat, this traditional dish features boiled potatoes, carrots, turnips and a side of cabbage. The cabbage was a little hard to slice, but the other vegetables were boiled perfectly enough to remain tender without sacrificing their shapes and natural flavorings. The Irish aren't big on spices but rely on a food's natural flavors to perk up their recipes.

The menu is limited to traditional Irish fare such as lamb stew and shepherd's pie, which we did not sample.

Sheehan and Murphy said the Old Court attracts two crowds: families from Lowell and surrounding communities before 9 p.m., when a bouncer arrives for late-night guests. Dots, a local band, performs Friday nights. Plans are underway to include outdoor dining this summer.

MAUREEN COSTELLO

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