Feast of Eire

Fadó Dissolves Stereotypes With a Varied Irish Menu

Fadó Irish Pub and Restaurant

photograph by John Anderson

Fadó Irish Pub and Restaurant
214 W. Fourth, 457-0172

Daily, 11:15am-2am

Though the only ethnic heritage I can claim with certainty is Irish, I must admit that my knowledge of Emerald Isle cuisine was pretty sketchy beyond corned beef and cabbage and Irish stew. That's one of the main reasons I was eager to sample the menu at Fadó, a conglomeration of various Irish pub decors under one roof boasting an authentic Irish menu. Fadó is a joint venture between a Dublin company that creates the component parts of Irish pubs in its homeland and an Irish-American investment group which operates them in several stateside cities. The full menu features the Irish dishes I'd expected and some interesting revelations, as well. Traditional ingredients such as potatoes, cabbage, beef, lamb, and salmon are artfully blended into a full Irish banquet. The local Fadó kitchen, under the direction of chef Todd Lettman, executes the menu with polish and consistency, with only an occasional misstep. At the Fadó opening bash late last spring, I had my first taste of the Irish entry into the pancake/crêpe/tortilla/won-ton food category, a stuffed potato pancake called Boxty ($4.95 appetizer, $9.95 entrée with a side salad). According to the menu, the word boxty is derived from the Irish Gaelic word "bacstai," relating to the traditional cooking of potatoes on the hob (bac) over an open fire (stai). The tender, flexible pancakes are a shade thicker than the average crêpe and come with one of three fillings: basil chicken with a tomato-basil sauce, vegetable filling topped with a cilantro hollandaise, or salmon with tomato and cream cheese with a lemon-butter sauce. Each version has charms to recommend it, but the salmon was my favorite, boasting toothsome chunks of fish, diced roma tomatoes, and an herbed cream cheese complemented by the pleasantly tart lemon accent.

I dropped in soon after Fadó opened for lunch and was introduced to the wonders of the Irish Farmhouse Salad ($7.95). The hearty salad consists of a large bed of mixed field greens topped with roasted new potatoes and portabello mushrooms, thick slices of beefsteak tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh seasonal vegetables, boiled eggs, pickled beets, and slabs of imported Irish farmstead cheese. The salad comes with a choice of ranch or the house herb vinaigrette dressing and is a whole meal in itself. An equally good choice for lunch would be the unique Potato Soup ($3.95). Rather than a creamy concoction with soft potato chunks, the Fadó version offers russet potatoes puréed in a flavorful stock, garnished with plenty of crisp crumbled bacon, snipped chives, and squiggles of sour cream. It was warm and comforting on a cool, drizzly day. Both soup and salad are served with baskets filled with slices of the dense, warm Irish soda bread made fresh daily at the restaurant. In fact, the entire Fadó menu tends to be comforting cold weather food, true to its origins in a cold, damp climate. As the weather cools, folks in the neighboring office buildings may want to avail themselves of the lunch deal by which customers get every eighth lunch free.

Perhaps the most surprising meal I've had at the imported Irish pub was a dinner of Grilled Lamb Chops ($16.95). It never occurred to me that Irish food would have a spicy kick to it, so the rich sherry demi-glace accented with cracked black pepper and green peppercorns caught me off guard. Three fat lamb chops were grilled to a succulent medium rare and arranged like crossed swords around a pile of roasted new potatoes in the center of an oval platter. The meat and potatoes were surrounded by sautéed slices of carrots, squash, asparagus, cauliflower, and marinated cabbage, and the entire dish is napped with the peppery sauce. Though the roasted potatoes had grown rather rubbery (from sitting on the steam table too long?), they were a good medium for sopping up the tasty peppercorn demi-glace after the delicious lamb disappeared.

The only misstep I've encountered on the Fadó menu is in the dessert area. The Irish Whiskey Cake ($3.95) was so unappetizingly dry that even the creamy custard sauce couldn't save it, and an item described as an Apple Tart ($3.95) was really a rather uninspired plain apple pie. The pie's saving grace was an elegant, melting scoop of Guinness ice cream made locally by Amy's. Each silken mouthful of the ice cream reminded me of the Chef! episode in which Everton enchanted everyone with his wonderful Guinness punch. The ice cream is divine and deserves a better companion, perhaps a crisp tart crust filled with caramelized apple slices.

Service at Fadó is pleasant, friendly, and informative. On one visit, the waitress tactfully steered me away from a less-than-stellar soup of the day and encouraged my choice of the lamb chops as one of her favorite dishes. The pub's atmosphere is very inviting, with Irish pipe and fiddle music on the sound system and the lilt of Irish voices behind the bar. Manager Allen Sweeney is a real Irishman, following in the footsteps of five generations of his family who have been publicans in the Irish town of Donegal, where there are 3,000 people and more than 20 pubs. Sweeney is very much aware of the building's heritage as a beloved theatre venue and is actively supporting the downtown arts scene, booking music acts and presenting plays. He has a good chance to succeed at creating a comfortable Austin hangout with very respectable food. n

Royer's Round Top Cafe

The Square, Round Top, 800/624-7437
Wed-Sat, 11am-9pm; Sun, noon-4pm

Do you remember what was called "continental food" back before anyone had ever heard the words nouvelle or lean cuisine, before rich food and everything that really tasted good became taboo? Well, it's not likely you'll find many meals that even vaguely resemble the former "continental food" (thick cuts of meat; meats, pastas, and vegetables napped with extravagantly rich butter and cream sauces) in Austin these days, but I do know where some can be found. Take a short, scenic road trip to the tiny Fayette County hamlet of Round Top, famous for antique shopping, James Dick's Festival Hill Music Institute, and Bud Royer's Round Top Cafe. The Royers celebrated 10 successful years in Round Top last spring and they still believe in very big food.

The 39-seat cafe on the little town square has been in operation about 50 years, the last 10 of those under the ownership of former Houstonians Bud and Karen Royer and their children. A substantial portion of the Royers' clientele hails from Houston, and the cafe places well in newspaper restaurant polls and the 1997 Zagat guide to Houston restaurants. But the pleasant drive to Round Top is just about the same distance from Austin as it is from Houston, and the Royers are eager to attract more Austinites to their eatery. On our recent pilgrimage there, the wait on the front porch for a table inside was less than 30 minutes. Smart cafe regulars know to call ahead once they're on the road to put their names on the seating list before they arrive. It's a good idea.

Once inside the cozy, bustling cafe, we were overwhelmed with the sights, sounds, smells, and movement. The noise level is high, but the marvelous aromas escaping the kitchen will encourage you to adapt. A countertop is covered with the most stunning array of enormous homemade pies imaginable and waitresses scurry among the tables, dispatching baskets of fluffy yeast rolls glistening with butter and plates loaded with huge servings of food. All you need at this point is a big appetite. Don't worry about appetizers; the entrées are so substantial that you'll be lucky to finish one.

The hand-lettered menu offers many tempting options. Our table chose two items from the menu and took our waiter's very good advice about some specials. The most popular off-menu special is a 10oz. Tenderloin Steak ($24.95), crusted in Royer's secret seasoning, doused with dill butter, and served with grilled onions and a choice of two veggies. The steak was the size of my fist, cooked perfectly medium-rare and as tender as first love. Each butter-soaked, cholesterol-laden mouthful was divine. Running a close second in sales is the Monster Chop ($14.95), a gargantuan thick pork chop, grilled with the secret spices and served with the award-winning Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce from Fishcer and Weiser in Fredericksburg. The sweet, smoky-hot sauce is a great match for the well seasoned pork. We were not the only diners not the least bit embarrassed to gnaw on the bone for the very last wonderful morsel of meat.

From the menu, we sampled Stuffed Snapper ($18.95) filled with a tasty mixture of shrimp, crabmeat, aromatic vegetables, and spices. Almost blackened in a coating of another secret seasoning, the snapper was flaky and delicate around the elegant filling. We also enjoyed Stuffed Quail ($20.95 for two), whole boneless birds stuffed with fresh cilantro and plump shrimp, wrapped in bacon and grilled to a rich brown. We were too stuffed ourselves to pay proper attention to the pasta section of the menu, but there will be other visits. However, we did manage to split a warm piece of Peach Pie ($3.50) crowned with a melting scoop of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream. (Don't even think of ordering pie without ice cream; it's actually more expensive that way.) It's no wonder the Royers have such a booming mail-order pie business. The crust is as good as any you're likely to find this side of heaven, and the fillings are divinely inspired as well. It might be a good idea to call ahead and order a whole one to take home just in case. Don't miss the pie.

Thanks to the killjoys at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, we all know now that we can't eat anything we like very often. However, I tend to side with Julia Child, who espouses the idea of everything in moderation. While neither the portions nor the ingredients at Royer's can be described as moderate, it's far enough away that you aren't in danger of eating there every day, so that's kind of moderate, right? If you must have an occasional retro, time-traveling, big food experience, Bud Royer is the just the guy to give it to you. By the way, if you find yourself in Aggieland, the Royers have recently opened a second location in College Station (2500 Texas Ave. South, 409/694-8826). -- V.B.W.

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