I stopped in Bismarck earlier this summer to call on one of my long-time dealers in town and to take him out to lunch. A couple three years ago, I had been up to Grand Forks and found a nice place called the Toasted Frog (see that entry here). I heard that they had opened a location in Bismarck and I suggested we go there. My dealer said, "Sure! That sounds good. I've been there a couple times and it's pretty good."
We went to The Toasted Frog and found that it didn't open until 4 p.m. Just across the street from The Toasted Frog was The Pirogue Grille, a place we had eaten at one time a few years ago. (See that entry here.) However, my dealer said, "Well, we're in the same boat with The Pirogue Grille. It doesn't open until late afternoon, too."
He stood there for a moment and said, "Ah! I know a place we can go. It's just around the corner." We walked down N. 4th St. to Main and took a left. In the middle of the block was an Irish pub by the name of the Blarney Stone Pub. (see map)
(Disclosure - I didn't bring my phone with me, so the pictures I have in this blog were courtesy of the Blarney Stone's Facebook Page.)
Thanks to a boom in oil and gas drilling in Northwest North Dakota, a number of cities and towns in the area are going through some major changes. Some of the changes are good, but some are bad. Bismarck is benefiting the most out of the oil and gas boom in North Dakota as it has become the favored place for oil company executives to live. There has been an upscale housing and office space boom in the area and a handful of restaurants have popped up over the past couple three years. The Blarney Stone is one of those places and they've been open for just under three years. The pub is owned by a group consisting of Matt and Kelly Geiger, who own a construction company in Bismarck; Jim and Nicole Poolman (Jim Poolman is the former State Insurance Commissioner for North Dakota and is currently a consultant in Bismarck); Bil and Michele Rydquist (Bil Rydquist owns a heating and refrigeration business in Bismarck); and Russ Wanner, who is the managing partner at The Blarney Stone. The group worked together to make decisions on the downtown location, the decor of the restaurant, and the eventual menu.
The inside of the Blarney Stone is very reminiscent of an authentic Irish pub - heavy on the brick work with a large ornate wood bar in the main room as you walk in. There's a large upstairs area for private parties and overflow dining.
Off to the side of the main dining room/bar is an ornate and elegant dining room called the Grand Room with a large fireplace with a beautiful wooden mantle. And through a large brick arch was a hallway with a handful of private booth dining areas, each with their own arch entry way. The Blarney Stone would have been classy even in a much larger city.
We were escorted by a hostess into another dining area through the elegant room. This was the Blarney Stone's "courtyard" dining area. Actually, it was a long dining room with its own bar, and a number of high tables with what amounted to a large open garage door on the south end of the room. We sat at a high table near the garage door and the hostess left off menus for us to look over. Ricky was our server that day and he took our drink order while we took a look through the menus.
Each day through the week, the Blarney Stone has a lunch special from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Since it was on a Wednesday when we were there, the special that day was a half smoked Sicilian sandwich with a bowl of cheesy chicken tortilla soup. The Sicilian sandwich on its own piqued my interest - it consisted of smoked ham, pepperoni, and bacon with mozzarella cheese sitting on a bed of Spring lettuce, black olives, balsamic marinated tomato slices and sliced sweet onions, all sitting in between slices of grilled focaccia bread. Marinara sauce came with it on the side. I came into the place thinking a reuben would be pretty good, but this one jolted my taste buds.
They also had a number of entrees, appetizers and burgers including something called the Haystack McFarland. Named after a fictional Irish wrestler, this sandwich is Blarney Stone's "challenge" meal that consists of five different Blarney Stone signature burgers (such as the Rosemary O'Reilly, the Irish Mexican, and the Hot-Headed Irishman) along with two pounds of waffle fries. It costs $48 bucks and you get 30 minutes to down the burger and fries or you have to pay for the burger. You also get a free t-shirt if you win the challenge. This is a somewhat disturbing trend I'm seeing in restaurants, primarily because of Adam Richman and his "Man vs. Food" food challenges on The Travel Channel. Now, I love the Man vs. Food show, but I'm getting a little bored with these challenges. Pictured at left is a young guy who is getting ready to take the challenge. (He lost...)
My guest was thinking about getting one of the Blarney Stone's salads for lunch. When Ricky came to take our order for food, my dealer had a question regarding the "angry sauce" that the Blarney Stone used on their Angry Chicken Caesar Salad. Ricky said that it was a variation of a Buffalo wing sauce that they made in house. "It's spicy, but not that bad," he told my dealer. So, that's what my dealer ordered.
Even though the Smoked Sicilian sandwich was still at the top of my list, I couldn't help but notice a number of other items on the extensive menu. The Shepherd's Pie looked very interesting, as did the corned beef and creamed cabbage platter. There was also the Blarney Dip - sliced roast beef on a grilled hoagie bun, topped with melted Swiss cheese and garlic Aioli. It came with a Rosemary Onion au jus gravy to dip the sandwich in. Oh, man! It was between that and the Smoked Sicilian, but when it came my time to order I went with my original gut instinct and go the Smoked Sicilian - a whole without the soup - and waffle fries. Ricky asked if I wanted any of the Dublin sauce to go along with it. When I asked him what Dublin sauce was, he said, "It's mayo with pureed artichoke..." I forgot what he said after that. I immediately signed up for some of that, as well.
As we waited for our lunches to show up, we talked a little business and how the oil and gas boom has been affecting my dealer's business. He said, "Our retail traffic is still mediocre, but the number of homes that we're involved with doing home theaters or whole house systems is what's driving our overall business. The housing boom is getting to the point that if someone calls up a builder and asks to talk to them about building them a home in the area, the first thing the builder asks is, 'Do you have a plot of land?' If they don't, the builders won't even talk to them. 'Get a plot of land first,' the builders will say. 'Then come back and talk to me.' I'm telling you, it's just crazy."
He was also telling me that with the boom, it's also brought some hardships to areas of North Dakota. "Our infrastructure can't keep up. The big trucks are tearing up our roads out west, we don't have enough state troopers to patrol the roads, crime is up in some of towns out west (that was confirmed later in the day by my dealer out in Dickinson). The east side of the state isn't seeing this economic boom, but they have the most population. None of the state legislators from out east aren't willing to earmark money for the problems that are starting to arise out west and they control most of the voting. Even though I'm benefiting from it, I don't think this boom is good for the state as a whole."
His salad and my sandwich was brought out to us and the sandwich was much larger than what I bargained for. They actually had a picture (albeit not a good one) on the Blarney Stone Facebook page of the Smoked Sicilian sandwich with waffle fries and marinara on the side - exactly what I ordered. The sandwich was piled high with the smoked ham, bacon and pepperoni, sitting on the bed of lettuce, tomatoes, olives and onions. The focaccia was lightly toasted and crisp. I had to cut it in half just to be able to handle it.
The Smoked Sicilian was very good. Years ago, T.G.I. Friday's used to have a similar sandwich - the Hot Sicilian - but they took it off the menu. It was the only reason I would go into a T.G.I. Friday's to eat. Every once in a while I'd find a T.G.I. Friday's that would still be able to make their Hot Sicilian sandwich, but it's been years since that last happened. Which also directly correlates to the last time I can remember being in a T.G.I Friday's. But the Smoked Sicilian at the Blarney Stone was every bit as good as the Hot Sicilian at T.G.I. Friday's. And it was a lot of food. I was having trouble eating the second half of the sandwich and I told my dealer, "Geez, I should have gotten the half sandwich and soup combo. This is a big sandwich!"
The waffle fries were all right, but they were helped with the Dublin sauce. It had sort of a peppery taste to the sauce and it was very good. I was extremely impressed with my meal at the Blarney Stone.
My dealer was happy with his Angry Chicken Caesar Salad. There were a lot of small chunks of grilled chicken that had been dipped in the spicy sauce before it was placed on the Caesar Salad. He said that the waiter was right, the sauce wasn't all that spicy. "This is very good," my dealer declared.
I had been looking through the beer list earlier during our visit and I was impressed with the number of beers they had to choose from at the Blarney Stone. I told my dealer that I'd like to come back some night and take the other guys who work for him out to dinner and to have a few beers at the place. And the food prices were very affordable. The Smoked Sicilian was $9.99 and the waffle fries came with it. It was a lot of food at a great value.
(Since my original visit to the Blarney Stone earlier this summer, I was just in North Dakota on business last week with a factory guy from Focal Loudspeakers. We stopped at the Blarney Stone for lunch on our way out to Dickinson, ND and I had the Guinness Irish Stew - slow-roasted beef cubes with carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, onions, garlic, thyme and rosemary in a hearty Guinness beer broth served in a miniature pot. The guy from Focal, Jean-Philippe, had the Hot-Headed Irishman burger - a 1/2 pound burger topped with jalapenos, blue cheese dressing, pepperjack cheese and Blarney Stone's "Angry" sauce. He said the burger was outstanding and I have to say the Guinness Irish Stew was equally as good.)
I was very impressed by the Blarney Stone. As my old neighbor, George, used to say, "I hate places that put up a couple Irish flags and call themselves an Irish pub." The Blarney Stone was far from that. The ornate brick and woodwork throughout the place, along with the old world Irish feel, and the great food and beer menu would have worked for the Blarney Stone had it been in a city like Milwaukee, St. Louis or Indianapolis. I don't get up to Bismarck all that often, but I have a place that has risen to the top of my list of "revisits". And the way my business is growing in North Dakota, I need to get up there more often.