As a chef, you have to have a certain amount of confidence to name a pork chop after a wool sweater (the Gansey) or a lobster dish the Galway Hooker (it's a ship, actually, but still ...). Same goes for offering upscale "Celtic Fusion Cuisine," which is what they're selling at the newish Lincoln Park restaurant the Galway Arms, a place that is sometimes confusing but satisfying nonetheless.
For instance, I headed there thinking I was going to an upscale Irish restaurant called Anois (pronounced Ah-NISH), which means "now," as in right this minute and which was allegedly located on the second floor of Galway Arms. ("As the first Celtic Fusion restaurant in Chicago, we felt the name quite appropriate," the talky menu informs diners.) But when I got to the Gothic-looking building, it turned out that Anois had gone from "now" to "later," as in we're no longer calling the upstairs dining room Anois, and we're going to decide what we'll be doing with it later, including, probably, changing the name to something that people can pronounce.
Meanwhile, you can order from both menus downstairs. The regular Galway Arms menu includes such unfused dishes as lamb stew, shepherd's pie, fish and chips--but with updated touches like grilled spring onions, wild mushrooms and Irish risotto in the lamb stew and lemon-pepper seasoned fries in the fish and chips.
The Anois menu, on the other hand, is clearly where the 28-year-old chef Wade Fortin--who trained at the American Club in Wisconsin and "consulted with sources from the Celtic regions of Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, and Galicia," according to the menu--meant to have a little fun with tradition, partially by giving the food even more repellent names than Bangers and Mash (the sausage and potato standard that you'll find on the Galway menu). In addition to the Hooker and the Gansey, Fortin offers Chicago diners the $49 Celtic Warrior, a 16-ounce bone-in filet with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, roasted shallots, and a balsamic sauce--a dish meant to evoke the habit that warring Celts at war had of chopping off the heads of their enemies during battle. (Again, it says so on the menu.)
The skull-rattling noise from the air show had ended, so my friend Ruth and I decided it was safe to eat on the front patio (without a helmet) rather than in the multiroomed, pine-paneled interior, which is decorated with coats of arms, black and white photos of old Eire and stained-glass lights. It also features a jukebox that includes not just the Best of Dean Martin but selections by a band called Celtic Odyssey and by Sinead O'Connor.
The patio could belong to any Irish bar, but the food really is more fun. Ruth started with Forfar Bridies, which she referred to as "those birdies," having not yet caught onto the perverse naming system these folks use; I hesitate to investigate the antecedents of any kind of edible bridies, but I gather that Forfar Bridies are usually just small ground lamb or beef pies. The Anois version consisted of phyllo pastry wrapped around duck confit and duxelles, then served in slices like a coffee cake. It was quite nice. My brie en croute was sort of decadent; two big chunks of brie had been wrapped in puff pastry cooked just long enough to brown the crust and melt the cheese, with raspberries in truffle honey sauce.
We shared the Anois salad, which was a big bore (greens, tomato, onions, some potato), but then our entrees rose up to greet us, a pink-peppercorn-crusted New York strip big enough to feed a village of leprechauns for Ruth and the Gansey for me. Ruth's strip came with wonderful mashed potatoes that had a little blue cheese and were sprinkled with more of those peppercorns, which I love. The Gansey was just plain insane: a fried barrel built from shredded potatoes was filled with colcannon (mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage), then topped with a very large whiskey glazed pork chop with its two bones poking out to one side, then topped again with a tangle of deep fried leek shreds that looked a little bit like a wig.
I was wondering if perhaps this was a bridie, when and a very, very, very thin, pretty blond woman who had obviously been imbibing on the patio long enough to raise her blood alcohol blood level to "hungry" came marching up to our table, pointed at my Gansey, and asked, "What is that? What are you eating?" Before her boyfriend dragged her away, I told her it was good, because it was, especially the colcannon. In fact, the colcannon was so good I practically ignored the chop, which I probably should have just handed over; she looked like she needed it.
The desserts did not have entertaining names (just Bailey's cheescake, Mocha Mud Pie, etc) so we didn't bother with them; we'd become jaded.
Emily Nunn is a Tribune staff reporter.