The closest restaurant that passengers encounter after getting off the Amtrak DownEaster in Brunswick is Byrnes’ Irish Pub, just steps away. Apparently, business has picked up some since train service started.
But people who want distinctive food with their many beer choices would do well to venture a little farther. It’s not just that Brunswick has several other very good spots well within a walk of the train stop (though it does), but that the pub food was such a disappointment after two tries.
Enter the single boxy space to nondescript tables, a long bar with an impressive number of taps (25) and scattered televisions.
Filling the walls are framed pictures of Irish scenes, sports posters, beer logos and cheeky wooden signs (e.g.: “If idiots were trees, this place would be an orchard”). A digital clock ticks off the days/hours/minutes/seconds to St. Patrick’s Day, five days away on the night we first visited.
The suds are not tinged green for the holiday at this spot. Said owner Patrick Byrnes, “When you have a good Guinness, you don’t need a green beer.”
The kitchen did not anticipate the nearing holiday with particularly tempting dishes. Corn, peas and cubes of carrots in the shepherd’s pie, served in a single baking vessel, looked and tasted like those shaken from a plastic bag. Ground pork and beef in a bland gravy with onions was the protein base ($10.50).
Chunky, characterless mashed potatoes were mounded on top. The meatloaf platter was a near clone of this (same anemic vegetables) except that the meat came in slices, and the sauce had a bit more verve ($9.50).
For an example of how a pub kitchen could do much better with similar ingredients, consider LFK in Portland or Montsweag Roadhouse in Woolwich, both recently reviewed for this column. These establishments put out very good casual food in about the same price range.
Thick slices of whole grain bread held only partially melted (hard to forgive, this) cheddar in Jenny’s grilled cheese with bacon and tomato ($8.49). Whiskey chicken wings had some heat and a chewy texture ($7.99). A handful of carrot and celery sticks came on the side with blue cheese dressing for dipping.
Turkey rice soup ($2.99 a cup), which our server said was house-made, had ragged rice, small cubes of turkey and a broth nothing like grandma’s — my guess is that it’s not a homemade base.
The crusty grilled exterior of the fishcake “from Gilmore Bay” (which means it’s made by Gilmore’s Seafood, confirmed the owner) looked promising, but the filling had a strong, fishy flavor and unappealing chunks of potato ($6.50). If the greens had come on the side instead of under this heavy item, I might actually have eaten them.
House salad — a large mound of mixed greens, tomato, carrots and green pepper prepped and chilled ahead of time — was a foil to the substantial fare that surrounded us. But unfortunately, it contained chopped onion that you’d fry up for a hamburger and not want to eat raw rather than, say, a milder red onion ($3.50).
Reuben on marble rye, piled high with meat and crunchy sauerkraut, was the pick of the evening ($8.99).
We tried two cheesecakes. The chocolate Guinness tasted like plain; the Bailey’s Irish Cream was the more distinctive option (both $5.99).
Our first waitress seemed untrained as well as neutral in demeanor. She placed the wrapped silverware at the end of the table without a word so we could pass it out (after our hot food had appeared), and put an appetizer plate down on a plastic menu without asking if we might want to move it.
Better service characterized our second visit. We felt welcomed and efficiently cared for, despite the fact the place was hopping on that Friday before St. Patrick’s Day.
Still, service was a little sloppy: Silverware and napkins came in dribbles after requests, and appetizer plates again stayed on the table while we dug into entrees.
The White Irish Cosmo, foggy in appearance and composed of Boru Irish whiskey, white cranberry juice, Cointreau and lime, was a good sweet/tart balance — not ultra-frosty after being shaken, but cold enough ($7.25).
Black bean and bacon soup, nicely seasoned (as in, not too salty) and fine in taste was pureed to a rough textured potage and served without a garnish, making it a bowl of charcoal-gray ($2.99). Fish cake and house salad resembled their earlier incarnations.
A salmon sandwich ($7.99) was nicely grilled and topped with ginger coleslaw and melted Swiss cheese — a bit of an East-West tussle that worked well enough. It came on a potato roll — a soft, fresh and welcome unifier.
Raise an enthusiastic pint to the evening special, a Guinness beef stew. This hearty bowl of tender meat, thick and flavorful sauce, chunky carrots and turnips ($9.99) was a rare find among weak-to-middling fare.
Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer and editor. She can be reached at: