With St. Patrick’s Day this weekend, you may be looking for somewhere to “get your Irish on” and there is no better place than Atlanta’s oldest Irish bar, Limerick Junction. This genuine Irish pub has been a corner stone of the Virginia-Highland restaurant scene having opened its doors for 25 years ago this week.
Limerick Junction is the only town in Ireland that actually grew around a railroad much like Atlanta being built around the Southern railroad hub to the U.S. Midwest in 1836, when Georgia decided to build the line's terminus here. The pub showcases original fixtures including school bench bar tables and the bar area which was originally an enormous linen cupboard from an Irish Manor House. If you look carefully you will notice that the mirrored doors of the cupboard adorn the dining area walls.
Since whiskey is considered the “water of life” in Ireland (“uisce beatha” in Gaelic), the bar boasts a large whiskey collection, more than 50 varieties of scotch, Irish and bourbon. The bar also features seasonal signature drinks. In the summer months, manger Liam Murphy grows cayenne and jalapeno peppers in a flower box off the back balcony of the restaurant. The fresh jalapenos are used in mango-jalapeno martinis and the cayenne peppers are used to infuse tequila for their signature winter drink of chili-spiked hot chocolate.
When asked what they wanted people to know about Limerick Junction, Murphy and owner, Gordon Kerr unanimously responded, “Our full-service menu!” The restaurant hired Chef Sean O’Neill about a year ago who has since revamped the restaurant’s recipes to make the dishes more authentic and flavorful. O’Neill is quick to point out that Limerick Junction is not a “chip shop.” “We try to serve real Irish food; the kind you would actually eat in Ireland.” The menu includes traditional Irish dishes like shepherd’s pie (made with lamb), cottage pie (made with beef), Reuben sandwiches, and curry. Yes, curry!
According to O’Neill, curry in Ireland is like pizza in America. While it is not completely original to the culture, curry has been a popular dish in Ireland for over a hundred years. The restaurant imports their curry powder from Ireland to ensure authentic “Irish” flavor. Having tried O’Neill’s chicken curry, I can understand why it has become an Irish favorite. The chicken breast meat is marinated in lemon juice and thyme, seared with onions and peppers, tossed in curry sauce and served over fresh spinach and rice. The result is not too sweet or too spicy and has a wonderful lemony zing.
The lamb burger is a special treat with a marinated pepper and onion salsa, goat cheese and spinach served on a toasted bun which becomes a generous helping of pleasing flavor combinations. And, for those just wanting a nibble with their beverage, a toastie is for you. Toasties appear on menus throughout the motherland. Toasties are to Ireland what tapas are to Spain. Limerick Junction serves two versions: apple Swiss and BST & Swiss. To make one at home, try Chef O’Neill’s recipe:
BST & Swiss Toasties:
- 2 slices of good sandwich bread
- 2 teaspoons butter, softened
- 1 slice Swiss cheese
- Healthy pinch of fresh spinach leaves, (about 6-8 depending on size)
- 2 slices of fresh tomato
- 3 rashers, (slices of bacon cooked and crispy)
Butter one side of each slice of bread. Place one slice of bread on a sandwich press buttered-side down and place a slice of Swiss cheese on the bread. Add spinach, tomato and bacon slices, and then top with the second slice of bread placed buttered-side up.
Close the press and allow to toast for 8-10 minutes. Resist the urge to open too soon; allow the sammie to cook throughout and for the bread to get nice and crispy. Trim the crusts and scraps from the sides and serve warm.
For a genuine Irish experience this St. Patrick’s Day, head over to Limerick Junction for live music inside and out and a holiday menu which includes traditional corned beef and cabbage, banger (Irish sausage) sandwiches, cottage pie, and fish & chips. Doors open at 12:30pm with a $5 early cover charge ($10 later).