Upon returning home I set out to find a place that most reminded me of those pubs we had discovered in Ireland. I wandered into St. Stephens Green on Castro Street in downtown Mountain View, and the search was over. The inviting restaurant/bar is authentically Irish from its management to its menu.
The bar is on the right just past the first set of tables and hooks to the left like a shillelagh. Irish soccer matches play on flat-screen televisions, and there's a plethora of Irish-themed decor.
Owner Erik Barry and general manager Des Whelan both hail from County Wexford, and operations manager Gwen Browne hails from County Dublin. Barry bought St. Stephens in 1999 and brought Whelan aboard as manager in 2003. St. Stephens is one of several spots on the Peninsula celebrating St. Patrick's Day the Irish way: serving a cornucopia of Irish-themed food and drink to ring in the popular holiday.
For Whelan, celebrating St. Patrick's Day at St. Stephens is more than just a business opportunity. It is a reminder of the times he enjoyed the holiday in his native Ireland, when the tantalizing scent of his mom's cooking would drift through the house.
"My mother would always make fresh Irish soda bread, and you would smell it and know dinner was nearly ready," he said.
Weekly restaurant critic Dale Bentson dubbed the pub a place where "everything is sturdy ... from the tables and chairs to the hearty fare turned out by the kitchen," he wrote in his May 2011 review. "Lest anyone forget where they are, there is a digital countdown to St. Patrick's Day that starts March 18 and subtracts every day, hour and minute until the next shamrock celebration."
Well, that "shamrock celebration" is right around the clover ... er, corner.
On Friday night, March 16, fans of Irish liqueur can stop by St. Stephens to rub elbows with the Bushmills and Baileys girls from 11 p.m. to midnight. Bushmills is an Irish whiskey with a 400-year history and Baileys is a popular Irish cream sold in more than 180 countries, according to their respective websites. St. Stephens will rise to the St. Patrick's Day occasion Saturday morning by serving a full Irish breakfast from 8 to 11 a.m. The restaurant also features a regular menu that gives eager eaters an array of traditional Irish options.
"Two of our favorites are staples in any good Irish pub," Whelan said. "Our fish and chips are one of our top sellers, which we make with our own recipe beer batter, and the obvious corned beef and cabbage, which we have on the whole month of March."
St. Stephens also offers potato and leek soup served with homemade Irish soda bread; Guinness steak pie with fresh vegetables and mashed potatoes; Irish-style chicken curry with a choice of rice or fries; and Irish stew, among other choices (including fresh corned beef rolls served at the bar until 11 p.m. on St. Patrick's Day).
And what would a good Irish meal be without a fresh brew to complement it? St. Stephens features several Irish beers, including Guinness (stout), Harp (lager) and Smithwick's (ale). Those who celebrate a tad too much may wish to stop by St. Stephens Sunday morning, March 18, from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for a Bloody Mary that's $4 with a breakfast purchase.
While St. Stephens might be the most authentic Irish restaurant between Mountain View and Palo Alto, there are other places ringing in the holiday with similar enthusiasm. Standing just a skip down the road from St. Stephens like an Irish sister (although unrelated) is the popular Irish pub Molly Magee's.
The Castro Street entrance to Molly's is like a tunnel that leads visitors to the bar on the right and an assortment of tables — and a billiard table — on an upper platform. The pub includes a back patio with its own separate bar and more seating (particularly inviting when the weather is nice). Molly's will serve green beer from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. March 17, and always has Guinness, Harp and Smithwick's on tap, not to mention a host of others.
Even Palo Alto's long-standing English bar/restaurant, the Rose & Crown, is getting in on the Irish action — an annual tradition. The Rose & Crown is a solid representation of Britain's classic pubs and includes an outdoor patio, expansive bar and dartboards. On March 17, the Rose & Crown will offer corned beef and cabbage with potatoes and carrots "until it runs out," owner Kasim Syed said.
And Rose & Crown will be trying something a little different this year by giving the overseas taste of Ireland a local flair.
Rose & Crown will feature 10 craft stouts — Ireland's most popular style of beer — from West Coast breweries "for the people that are really into the beer," Syed said. Stouts from Palo Alto Brewing Co., Drake's Brewing (San Leandro), Firestone Walker Brewing Company (Paso Robles) and Green Flash Brewing Co. (San Diego) will be among those available on tap.
St. Stephens Green, Molly Magee's and The Rose & Crown are proudly providing patrons a taste of Ireland on St. Patrick's Day and beyond. And you won't have to travel all the way to Roscommon to get it.
St. Stephens Green
223 Castro St., Mountain View
241 Castro St., Mountain View
The Rose & Crown
547 Emerson St., Palo Alto