Dining With Denise Neil

Blarney Stone the best version of an Irish pub Wichita’s had in decades

The shepherd’s pie at Blarney Stone has a crispy mashed potato and cheese topping.
The shepherd’s pie at Blarney Stone has a crispy mashed potato and cheese topping. The Wichita Eagle

Every year around St. Patrick’s Day, people start craving corned beef and cabbage and ask me to print a list of Wichita restaurants that will be serving the traditional Irish dish on the greenest of days.

Now, Wichita has a restaurant where it’s St. Patrick’s Day every day. Blarney Stone Pub Sports Bar and Restaurant opened in February in the former Larry Bud’s space in Brittany Center, 21st and Woodlawn. It’s still a sports bar, but owner Michelle Lindgren has pulled off the best version of an Irish pub Wichita has had during my two decades here.

▪ ON THE MENU: Like its predecessor, Blarney Stone has a big menu full of bar favorites like steaks, sandwiches, pizzas and chicken wings. But it also has an impressive list of Irish specialties, including corned beef and cabbage, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash, Irish stew and boxties, which are Irish potato pancakes served with a cream sauce. It also has several Irish-themed dishes, like fried cheese curds, an Irish pizza topped with corned beef and cabbage, Irish nachos and deep-fried bread pudding.

▪ DON’T-MISS DISHES: I’ve had enough bar-made burgers, wings and French dip sandwiches to last a lifetime, so I decided to devote my visit to Blarney Stone to the Irish dishes, which aren’t widely available in Wichita.

I ordered the shepherd’s pie, which comes in two sizes, and my waitress kindly advised me to go for the smaller one. It was served piping hot in an oval dish and featured ground beef mixed with peas, carrots and gravy topped with mashed potatoes and cheese and then broiled. The beef mixture had a sweet flavor, and the carrots in the mixture still had a crisp bite. The mashed potatoes and cheese crusted over to make a crust-like topping, and picking the broiled bits of cheese off the edge of the dish added to the comfort-food joy.

Although I’m assuming Dublin pubs aren’t selling lots of corned-beef-and-sauerkraut-covered pizzas, I couldn’t resist trying Blarney Stone’s Irish Pizza, and it was a treat. I’m not a huge sauerkraut fan, though it’s growing on me, but this pizza used it perfectly. It was a basic cheese pizza topped with a generous amount of kraut then sprinkled with uniformly chopped bites of dark pink corned beef and drizzled with bright orange Thousand Island dressing and green onions. The colors of the pizza popped, and each bite revealed layers of tangy flavor.

My search for the perfect fish and chips continues, sadly. This is a dish I dream about, and I even failed at tracking down good ones on a brief trip to Ireland years ago. Though Blarney Stone’s version is made from a nice, flaky cod loin, the fish was overwhelmed by the way-too-thick beer batter it was coated in. I prefer a flaky, crisp breading, but this one was bready and chewy. The dish was served with tartar sauce and some extra-crisp double-fried fries.

We also sampled the bangers and mash, which was a serving of two Guinness brats covered with mashed potatoes and topped with gravy. The dish lacked visual appeal and was a big pile of brown and beige, but the sausages were juicy and flavorful, and the thick mashed potatoes were a hearty accompaniment.

The appetizer list is particularly fun, and someday we’ll go back to Blarney Stone and take a tour of its offerings accompanied by a tour of the many Irish beers on tap, including Guinness, Harp and Smithwick’s. We loved the Irish cheese curds, little bites of chewy cheese deep fried and served with a side of chipotle sauce. They weren’t up to Kansas State Fair standards, but they were a more than suitable local substitute. Even better was the beer cheese and pretzels. The salty pretzels had a texture that was between crispy and bready, and the tub of beer cheese on the side was thick and creamy. I only wish there was more of it.

▪ AMBIENCE: The owners have pulled off an impressive transformation of the once-tired space that previously held Larry Bud’s and Tanner’s before that. The floors are now cement, and the room is filled with attractive wooden tables with black wooden chairs.

Owners have added lots of nice Irish touches, such as food served nestled in paper that looks like newspaper print and traditional Irish music playing over the speakers. They’ve decorated the place with a carved wooden mantle and a cozy seating area near the entrance. Blarney Stone also has a roomy outdoor patio appointed with wooden tables and chairs.

Sports fans used to Larry Bud’s will still feel at home. The large dining room is literally lined on all four walls with television sets playing sporting events.

▪ PRICE RANGE: Dinners, which include dishes like fish and chips and bangers and mash, range from $8.99 to $18.99. Pizzas are $8.99-$9.99 for a 7-inch, $19.99-$20.99 for a 15-inch. Sandwiches are $7.99 to $10.99. Appetizers are $4.99 to $5.99.

▪ SERVICE: Our service was quick and friendly.

Ratings reflect the critic’s judgment of the food, service and atmosphere in relation to the price. If you would like to nominate a restaurant to be reviewed, call 316-268-6327.

Blarney Stone Pub Sports Bar and Restaurant

out of four

Where: 2120 N. Woodlawn, Suite 300, 316-260-9195

Type of food: Bar food, Irish fare

Alcohol: Full bar

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, though the kitchen is limited after 10 p.m.

Website: www.blarneystonewichita.com/