The southern coast of Rhode Island has had some rough times lately. From Narragansett to Matunuck through Misquamicut and down to Napatree Point, Superstorm Sandy eroded away a lot of beach and some very precious not-so-natural resources: restaurants, bars and hotels. Tara’s Tipperary Tavern in Matunuck got hit with a double-whammy, not only suffering damage from Sandy last fall, but also getting walloped by Nemo this past February. But you can’t keep the Irish down and the nearly 100-year- old pub is still going strong and keeping a little piece of Ireland in southern Rhode Island.
Walking into Tara’s Tipperary Tavern you’ll come across the usual Guinness imagery and well-worn bar of an Irish pub. There’s barely an ambience, but then it also feels like there are decades of ambience. It’s not quite the feeling of a centuries-old pub in Ireland, but Tara’s is still carrying some weight in its brief new world history.
The main test of any place that calls itself an Irish pub is of course ordering a Guinness. My friend went with a Smithwick’s, which was nice to see on tap too, but for me Guinness is required. The bartender took her time pouring it, which she even apologized for after she had filled the glass three-quarters of the way and was giving the stout time to settle. No apologies necessary, I said, waiting patiently until she topped it off under that settled, creamy dome. It was as perfect of a pour as I’ve seen around here and a harbinger of all that was to come. For those not Irish beer-inclined, Tara’s has plenty of domestic brews on tap and in bottles, as well as some wines, and of course a selection of Irish whiskeys.
On to the menu, which won’t win any awards for uniqueness – we’re talking pub food here: wings, mozzarella sticks, burgers, fish and chips and club sandwiches. Though there are some nice little Irish touches like bangers and rashers and even a toastie. We ordered up a mix of Rhode Island and Ireland flavors and were soon greeted with an onslaught of food from the very efficient kitchen.
First up was something that has its roots in both the old world and new, a cup of clam chowder ($4.50) with a side of clam cakes ($2.50). Tara’s offered three kinds of clam chowder – red, white and clear – and we went with white. It was a touch on the thick side, but it wasn’t too pasty and was loaded with lots of clams and big chunks of potato. The clam cakes were a nice size, a little larger than a golf ball, but not crazy big, and were perfectly fried. Next we went traditional Rhode Island and tried a stuffie ($4.25), which was enormous and delicious. My friend attacked it after her first taste, and I had to agree with her that it was one of the better stuffies I’ve had. There was lots of flavorful bread stuffing and it was packed light and loosely so that it wasn’t like eating a ball of dough, which is a problem with a lot of stuffies. So far Tara’s had gotten the Rhode Island side of menu spot on.
Our next treat was frickles ($6.95), which is, if you can’t guess from the name, fried pickles. I’ve seen some places bread and fry long pickle spears, which is not the way to go for maximum frying surface area to create flavor. Tara’s frickles were properly fried round slices of whole pickle, and, as expected, perfectly fried. These frickles were light and crispy with a good mix of the sour vinegar taste of the pickle and the salty crispiness of the fry coating. They came with a horseradish sauce that, while tasty, I didn’t feel was necessary for such a perfectly fried item.
With our two main dishes we crossed completely over the Atlantic – Ireland does contain the westernmost point of continental Europe (if you count a large island as part of the continent). We had the Bangers and Pub Chips ($6.95) and an R.L.T. ($7.75). The bangers were pretty traditional with some good breadiness to them. They were served with what tasted like it might have been HP Sauce, a bottled UK sauce with some malt vinegar and tamarind. The pub chips served with the bangers were a huge highlight of the meal. It’s not often that you get thinly sliced potato chips, fried to order and excellently seasoned, but Tara’s pulls this off with style. They also offer these chips as a side dish with cheese and bacon, which I will definitely be back for.
Lastly we had the R.L.T., which is a Rashers, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich. Rashers are Irish bacon. Unlike American bacon which is made from the pork belly, Irish bacon is usually made from the side or back of the animal, giving it a bit more of a big, meaty area surrounded by streaks of fat (there’s a few more differences but that’s the main one). It’s definitely not the bacon we’re used to here and that meatiness makes it a nice part of a sandwich. I loved that Tara’s had rashers on the menu.
When we finished eating and polished off our beers, my friend and I turned to each other and basically had the same exact thought. Yes, it’s pub food, but wow, was that good pub food. To heck with the weather. Here’s hoping Tara’s holds strong into the next century. Sláinte!