Drink, don’t chew
Sacramento, CA 95814
Drink at de Vere’s. Drams. Draughts. Drafts. Doubles. Sip. Slug. Swig. Slurp. Swill. Gulp, guzzle or gargle gazillions of gills of Jameson, Redbreast and Black Bush. You can even quaff some of that Limey gin with Queen Vic, the ol’ sourpuss, on the label.
But if it’s sustenance of a soldier sort being sought, one fares better seeking fare elsewhere. Other views diverge: My pal Pete Montgomery raves about the Reuben. H.D. Palmer, whose culinary gifts far eclipse mine, digs the Irish stew—cooked carrots and all—despite it being made with beef instead of lamb. How many head of cattle are there on the Emerald Isle? Six? Seven?
H.D. and I do agree that the salmon and brown bread—Granny de Vere’s recipe, ’tis claimed; no yeast, extra wheat, used as ballast on clipper ships—is worthy of the $11.50 price tag. Go ahead, try and mess up raw salmon and bread.
De Vere’s is an Irish pub. It says so on the sign at 1521 L Street. It’s written on the receipts as well. Even without signage, it would be obvious de Vere’s is a pub, because there’s a couple of big bars, a bunch of dark wood, bric-a-brac, framed this-and-thats on the walls and 14 beers on tap—a goodly portion of which are from Éire. There’s a smattering of vintage Guinness posters and, natch, a back bar, just like similar establishments in the Old Country.
My drinking experiences in Ireland, which with abject modesty can be honestly described as legion, did not occur in opulent places like de Vere’s. The pubs of my Ireland held few sticks of furniture, minimizing the weaponry available for the inevitable deep-within-our-cups brawl over whose wife’s eyes sparkle most beguilingly, shaming the morning dew. (Difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish funeral? One less drunk.)
In comparison, de Vere’s seems an Irish pub as visualized by Disney Imagineers. “Welcome, folks, de Vere’s is a Letter E attraction. Please have your ticket torn out of your coupon book and ready to hand to the authentically accented but Audio-Animatronic bartender as you enter the turnstiles.”
The guts of it: de Vere’s is a bar. Pub. Whatever. Food is secondary. De Vere’s offerings are higher on the food chain than the solids of Shady Lady Saloon, another drinking destination, but the point is the same: One comes to de Vere’s, primarily, to imbibe. If the draw is Granny’s Shepherd Pie, re-examine priorities. No one has ever accused the Irish of overzealous or, for that matter, inspired use of star anise, fennel, cardamom and serranos, but Granny must have been severely spice adverse.
Fond of her mashed potatoes, though. In the large oval dish housing the shepherd’s pie, it’s hard not to feel like James Mason boring through the massive mashed-potato mantle in desperate search of the ground-beef magma, sparsely accented with teensy carrot cubes, that allegedly lies below. With respect to Granny, garlic, corn, peas, some splashes of Worcestershire, rosemary, thyme, even cream of mushroom soup all appear in myriad recipes as viable S.P. ingredients.
Apparently, the shepherd’s pie peas have all immigrated to the $10.95 chicken pot pie, which Kimberle, the witty and winning waitress, hails, without hesitation, as her favorite menu item. Served in a white tureen with what H.D. calls a “detachable hardtop” of crust for a lid, the chicken pie is merely that, a chicken pot pie, carrying on Granny’s legacy of spice aversion.
H.D. queries Kimberle about the Dixie cups adorning some booze bottles behind the front bar. They keep the fruit flies out, she informs. Briskly changing subjects, Kimberle asks if there’s anything else we want.
“What else can we have?” I ask.
“Scotch,” she says immediately. Be still my heart.
A 23-word salute: de Vere’s is a very professional and enjoyable place to get a good heat on. Its fare, however, is like unto Daniel’s Belshazzar.