So now you’ll understand when I say McNamara’s Irish Pub and Restaurant in Donelson has seriously mad “craic.” Bar food, pub grub, often said with a dismissive sneer of the sort of resigned acceptance that comes from needing to eat after a night of pounding a few cold ones at a local watering hole.
Let’s face it; there are places that specialize in adult beverages, and there are places that specialize in good grub. Finding a place that can do both well is a bit like witnessing a flying unicorn. That is, of course, unless you’re talking about McNamara’s, which manages to keep true to its Irish pub roots while still serving up some of the tastiest food in Middle Tennessee.
Husband and wife, Sean “Turk” and Paula McNamara, hail from Ireland and say that we all have “genetic memory…if the Irish is in you, it may lay dormant for years, but when hits you, your home because it’s in the fabric of your being.”
The big white house is beautifully renovated in traditional Irish pub style, with a cozy but impressive bar. The dining room, with dark wooden tables and high-backed comfortable booths, is casual and welcoming. A beautiful landscape mural of the Mourne Mountains decorates the dining wall of Paula’s hometown, Newry, County Down, in her beloved Ireland.
The bar itself has a great atmosphere, all warm wood fixtures and cheeky Guinness advertisements along the walls. Sure, it’s exactly what every Irish pub in the United States tries to go for, but I find something comforting and compelling about that familiarity. Whether you’re bellying up to the bar for a pint and a shot of Jameson, enjoying some people watching or ordering up an Irish breakfast spread at one of the tables, McNamara’s just feels like a hometown pub should feel. Service is friendly, although I recommend a bit of patience during peak hours – this can be a popular place.
It’s also a place where the eating is almost as much fun as the drinking, from appetizers to dessert. Tops on my list for starters are the Caledonia Scotch Eggs ($9 for six). Don’t be afraid of the $1 per egg price tag on these – they are large, hard-boiled eggs wrapped in sausage meat, coasted in panko and deep friend. Served with their homemade Cajun mayo by Chef Magic, they are hearty and full of the sort of flavor that you can only dream of possessing. This can easily feed two people, unless you’re like me and completely obsessed with them.
Keep room in your stomach because the locally sourced corned beef and cabbage ($15) is a TKO. Slow cooked for eight hours, the corned beef floats atop the plate with tenderness and the cabbage is cooked in the beef’s remnants. Pulled to perfection, this dish melts in your mouth, and the whole affair is smothered in full-bodied flavor bite after glorious bite.
If that dish doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can generally turn to the classic fish and chips ($15). This tasty pub grub mainstay consists of three large cod fillets coated with a lager-based batter and fried to a fluffy golden brown. McNamara’s manages to be one of the few places around that serve this style of fish – crisp on the outside and creamy in the center, just as God intended. The tangy homemade coleslaw served as a side is nothing to be upset about either, and it makes a wonderful addition to the fish. Don’t forget the family secret tartar sauce. My server, Bill Schenk said, “it’s the reason they have fish…so you don’t look silly spooning the condiment into your mouth alone. It’s a blend of capers, lemons and all things but the kitchen sink.”
Folks with a heartier appetite would do well to add a bowl of Mourne creamy Irish potato soup ($5), a delightful take on potato soup that is great on cold days – or any other day, for that matter. I could go on for days about the food, but I only have limited column space…so you have to go try the menu for yourself.
McNamara’s is, of course, a great place to drink with friends. The atmosphere is festive, the music is good and the selection of potent potables is among the best around. But even if tying one on isn’t what you’re looking for, there are still plenty of reasons to stop in at the Donelson pub. It’s pub grub at its best, and whether it’s lunch, Sunday brunch or an Irish-flavored dinner, you’ll always be pleased with what you find. I leave you with a lil’ of my Irish heritage blessing.
“May you enjoy the four greatest blessings:
Honest work to occupy you,
A hearty appetite to sustain you,
A good woman to love you,
And a wink from the God above.”
Kristin Duncan is marketing and promotions manager for Lebanon Publishing Co. and writer of Eat Like a Girl columns that appear each Wednesday in The Democrat.