Places like Smithwick’s Bar & Restaurant
can be found in any American city or affluent suburb. The long
bar that runs down one side of the cavernous front room, lit
with faux-Grecian chandeliers, and the dining area’s sponge-painted
walls and white linen tablecloths have the anonymous feeling
of a hotel restaurant.
The one unlikely spot to find a restaurant like Smithwick’s would be on Smith Street, where it opened in May. Wedged between the little bistros, ever-proliferating Thai establishments and trendy bars and lounges, the blandly attractive interior of Smithwick’s and its something-for-everyone menu has the uneasy air of a Mormon in a drag club.
Smithwick’s is the latest venture of Seamus O’Toole and Terry Traynor, the owners of eight-year-old Eammon’s, an Irish bar and restaurant on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights. While more upscale than its predecessor, the Irish waitstaff have the same accommodating spirit. Three-quarters of the eatery’s huge space is dedicated to the bar, which attracts a convivial crowd.
The blackboard outside Smithwick’s announced "D.J. Richie fresh from ’The Ridge.’" Richie’s followers, and a few stray, messy-haired, black-clad Smith Street regulars grooved to the Bee Gee’s "More than a Woman."
The cuisine is a hybrid of American steakhouse standards and authentic Irish dishes. Chef Noel Thompson, a native of Waterford, Ireland, trained in Europe and earned his stripes over the course of 19 years working in the kitchens of two well-known Irish-American establishments - Peggy O’Neill’s in Bay Ridge and John Barleycorn’s in Connecticut. Thompson does his best to uplift Smithwick’s rather bland menu, and most of the time he succeeds.
Among the appetizers of coconut shrimp, barbecued baby back ribs and jumbo shrimp cocktail served with avocado and Bloody Mary dipping sauce, was a special of mulligatawny soup.
I’ve had very good renditions of this aromatic Indian soup, but Thompson’s was outstanding. Rich and soothing, the warm heat of the curry spread slowly over the palate. Atop the soup sat a spoonful of mango chutney that added a bit of cool sweetness and a lingering cinnamon flavor. Tender slices of white and dark chicken meat made a meal of the dish.
Thompson fries up a nice platter of lightly breaded, not greasy calamari. The big, tender slices of squid had the distinct flavor of clean peanut oil and salt. A side of fresh tomato dipping sauce was just garlicky enough and enjoyably pulpy.
Two meat entrees had real stick-to-your-ribs appeal. Three hefty lamb chops arrived with a thick rim of fat - a good thing in my opinion. When it’s grilled, lamb fat has the crispest edge and a luscious, buttery texture. The dish comes with a side of spinach and mushroom "dressing" (that’s "stuffing" to you Americans) that’s as appealing a side dish for this season as one could want. Mashed potatoes were whipped until light and creamy.
I wasn’t as enamored with the flank steak. The slices were slightly overcooked, and the meat’s mustard and Balsamic vinegar marinade was too sharp.
Smithwick’s is one of the few eateries in the neighborhood to offer an authentic Irish grill: a lamb chop, bacon, sausage and fried egg combo. There’s enough fat and cholesterol in that dish to make an Atkin’s follower ecstatic. Other tried and true dishes from the Emerald Isle include fish and chips, and a poached wild salmon with a whiskey-accented, creamy dill sauce.
Thompson is a Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef and his simple desserts reflect his education. His lemony cheesecake is rich yet light, pleasantly tart, and its graham cracker crust adds a crisp texture.
I’d stop into Smithwick’s for a cup of the restaurant’s strong coffee and sublime Key lime pie. The pie’s filling is more tart than sweet and is flavored slightly with mint, adding a fragrant, herbal note.
A few years ago, my in-laws came for a visit from California. They’re not adventurous eaters, but they like a nice meal in an attractive setting. We took them to a lovely French bistro in Manhattan where they picked at their small portions and rolled their eyes at the prices.
Later, in my kitchen, my mother-in-law said of the meal, "I just like a nice piece of meat with a salad and a potato."
Next time they visit, I’ll have the perfect place to take them.
Smithwick’s Bar & Restaurant (191 Smith St. between Baltic and Warren streets in Boerum Hill) accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover. Entrees: $10-$26. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner seven days a week, and brunch on weekends from noon to 4 pm. For reservations call (347) 643-9911.