I was flipping through the channels the other day when I came across an old episode of the MTV classic show "Pimp My Ride". I have always loved the show's premise: Taking someone's old clunker of a car, adding some fancy accessories, throwing some fresh paint on it, and voila! Same old car with a fresh, updated look. P. Brennan's of Arlington is banking on a similar idea.
Owners Greg Whelan and Brian Dolphin wanted to breathe new life into the pub concept, and they are attempting to do so with their newest venture, P. Brennan's, the new Irish pub that recently opened on the Pike corridor. P. Brennan's aims to maintain the friendliness and hospitality that traditional Irish pubs are known for, while incorporating some of the more gourmet touches that District cuisine is known for. This is quite the challenge, considering Irish pubs are frequented for their brews and not their grub. Pub food is usually just an afterthought to the partying, drinking and carousing that goes on in these establishments. But it seems that the Whelan / Dolphin team is willing to take this challenge head-on. After all, they did hire Chef Trent Conry, whose cooking background is primarily French cuisine! Irish pub fare with a modern twist? Sounds intriguing.
Last week, I, along with Aisha from Northern Virginia Magazine, attended P. Brennan's "coming out to the local press" reception, put out by the P. Brennan's management staff. The main goal was to give us an intimate look at the making of the pub and more importantly (in my opinion), the making of the food. Sitting near the main bar, with Greg, Mark (the General Manager/part owner), and Emma (the PR gal and Greg's wife) on one side and Aisha and I on the other, it felt like a panel interview! However, as soon as Emma and Greg got to talking, with their Irish lilt, we immediately felt at ease. They shared the stories behind the name (named after a good friend, Little Pat, who passed away), behind the construction (the main bar came in three parts, handmade in Des Moines by an Irish lad), and behind the owners (pubs, bars, and hospitality are just in Greg's blood, we think). Check out Aisha's article which provides further detail. All while this is happening, Chef Conry brought out plate after plate of both traditional Irish fare and more gourmet fixings. Mind you, we got tasting portions, hence the small size:
Irish breakfast? The yolk from the poached quail's egg had the right amount of richness to cut through the slight saltiness of the sausage.
Wexland Lamb Stew and Beef Stew? Both were light but had bold, well-rounded flavour. Seems contradictory, but works.
Corned Beef & Cabbage Stew? A little on the bland side. But maybe I was expecting typical salty corned beef.
Shepherd's Pie? Mashed potatoes were not grainy at all (passed through a chinois, perhaps) and were nicely golden brown on top. The meat was seasoned well and the veggies were surprisingly not mushy. Apparently, the secret is adding them at the very last minute!
Beet Salad with Balsamic Reduction? Anyone who can cook beets and not turn them to mush is tops in my books. And hello, balsamic reductions are the best!
Grilled Calamari? Love that it's grilled!
One after another, these plates were brought out ready for the eating. I struggled to keep up with the conversation all the while tasting every last morsel of my sampling!
For any die-hards out there, who think that they now have to lift up their pinky fingers while sipping on some Guinness, don't fear. P. Brennan's still wants to stick close to its roots. It is a neighbourhood pub after all. All it is trying to do is give the Arlington crowd a different take of what a pub is. P. Brennan's is not trying to reinvent the wheel; it's just adding some rims to spruce up the ride!
P. Brennan's Irish Pub and Restaurant
2910 Columbia Pike
Arlington, VA 22204