After a long day at the annual CEDIA Expo in Dallas last year, we didn't really want to venture anywhere far away from the hotel in downtown Dallas. We had seen a restaurant that billed itself as a Mexican chop house that was a block away from the hotel on Main St. - Sol Irlande's. (see map) There were six of us from our company with a couple of stragllers that joined us that particular evening.
It's sort interesting how an Irish guy from Long Island ended up in Dallas running a unique Mexican restaurant. Tom McGill grew up on the South Shore in Nassau County who knew that he wanted to get into the restaurant business when he was working for a small family-owned Italian restaurant in his teens. After graduating from St. John's University, McGill started to work as an accountant in Manhattan. Realizing that he didn't care much for a behind the desk job, he quit commuting and turned instead to bartending. He eventually became a restaurant manager, then a maitre d' at a high-end banquet hall.
When the restaurant business turned sour in New York in the mid-90's, the then 30-something McGill was talking with some friends who were living in Dallas. They were telling him about how the restaurant business was booming in the Big D. He moved to Dallas and was immediately hired by Nick Galanos, the owner of Tia's Tex-Mex restaurant chain.
What McGill eventually wanted to do was to open an Irish bar in Dallas. But working at Tia's for Galanos, he found that Texans really did like their Mexican food. But if he was going to do a Mexican restaurant, he wanted it to be unique. With the mentoring and blessing of Galanos, McGill struck out on his own and opened the downtown Dallas location for Sol Irlande's in 2006. His wife actually came up with the name - which roughly means Irish Sun - because of two factors, 1) The McGill's daughter was named Ireland; and 2) His wife knew that he really wanted to open an Irish bar due to his love for the old Irish bars in his native New York. (McGill also had a short-lived Sol Irlande's in suburban Richardson, TX.)
Sol Irlande's is located next to an urban park with a walkway along the side. In the park is a sculpture of a large human eye made by Chicago artist Tony Tasset. The "eye" is part of an exhibition brought to Dallas by the Joule Hotel, a boutique hotel (with a unique swimming pool that hangs out away from the building) just across from the gated park where the sculpture is on display. It's been in Dallas for a little over two years after being on display in Chicago as part of that city's Loop Alliance Public Art program since 2010. As a friend of mine who was at the trade show remarked earlier in the week, "There's something that you just don't see every day."
The building that Sol Irlande's is in dates back to the late 19th century and is one of the oldest buildings in downtown Dallas. For years it was a drug store, then it was taken over as part of an expansion by the F.W. Woolworth Five and Dime store next door. The original Italian-style facade that was popular with Dallas builders in the late 19th century and the early 20th century still graces the front of the building.
We had to wait for a table to be set up on the patio for our group and we passed the time in the bar area that also doubled as an indoor dining area. My colleague John and I both got a Herradura silver/Cointreau/lime juice margarita while we waited and it was outstanding. Sol Irlande's had a lot of flat screen televisions hanging around the bar area and out in the patio. It was sort of like a Mexican restaurant/sports bar.
It was unseasonably warm in Dallas while we were there and sitting on the patio on a warm evening was rather pleasant considering we were deep into fall. Our server for the evening, a young guy by the name of Gino, came over to greet us while we looked over the menu.
The food at Sol Irlande's is an interesting mix of Tex-Mex favorites such as mesquite-smoked ribs; fajitas with a choice of steak, chicken, shrimp or veggies; mesquite-grilled shrimp; chicken, ground beef or smoked brisket chimichangas; and something called Tommy's Bowl that featured a mixture of Spanish rice, Borracho beans, sliced avocado and grilled vegetables with a choice of a grilled chicken breast, grilled sirloin, blackened tilapia, blackened shrimp or grilled shrimp on top. They also feature a number mesquite grilled steaks, enchiladas, and good ol' Texas chicken fried steak.
I got the brisket tacos - 4 small tacos with pulled smoked brisket inside. A sliced avocado, jack cheese, onions and cilantro was folded in with the tacos. A side of the Borracho beans and Spanish rice came on the side along with a jalapeno salsa relish. The brisket tacos were scrumptious as there were a lot of flavors going on with each bite. The brisket was full of flavor and moist to the bite.
For good measure, I got a beef enchilada with a green tomatillo sauce that was served warm on the enchilada. It was topped with some jack cheese and served on a single plate. It was good, but not as good as the tacos.
My colleague John went with the mesquite-smoked baby back ribs. They were slathered with a housemade sweet and smoky barbecue sauce. They pulled off the bone rather easily and he made a mess while eating them. He offered me a bone to try, but I declined. He said, "Fine with me. More for me to eat."
One of our straggler guests that evening - I can't even remember his name - got the fish taco wraps. The flour taco shell wraps were filled with grilled tilapia, chopped cabbage, sliced carrots, avocado slices, and pico de gallo, and a housemade cream sauce came in a small tortilla shell. I thought about those for a moment, but I was more than happy with my brisket tacos and the beef enchilada.
My colleague Matt got the chicken mole. It featured a couple of grilled chicken breasts covered with Sol Irlande's housemade mole sauce that features 20 different spices and has to literally sit for days before it's served to allow all the flavors to co-mingle. Matt said it was an excellent tasting dish.
Another one of the guys seated at my end of the table got the El Jefe burrito - a large burrito with ground beef, refried beans, Spanish rice, a cheese mixture, and sour cream mixed in. A queso sauce was on the top of the burrito. It looked like a mess, but it also looked like the quintessential Tex-Mex meal.
One problem that we had was that Gino's service was a little less than desirable. He fouled up a couple of orders, but was quick to get things rectified. Where he was really having problems was with the drinks. He was pretty slow to get drink orders and to get the drinks back to our table.
John and I both ordered the same Herradura silver/Cointreau/lime juice margarita as we did at the bar from Gino. When he finally brought them back, well, they tasted horrible. We got his attention and told him that the margaritas were not the same ones that we had gotten before. He asked again what it was and we told him. "I swear, that's what I told him," Gino said. He took the drinks away and came back about 10 minutes later - of course, our food was all gone by this time - with two more margaritas. They were just as bad as the ones he served us before.
We immediately got his attention and said, "Huh, uh. No good." We told him that the first ones we were served by the bartender when we were waiting for the table to open up were stellar. These, well, they were just nasty tasting. Gino had the manager come over and we told him the situation. He was gracious and apologetic, claiming that he doesn't know how the first ones we got were so good and the ones we were served later on were not to our liking. In any event, he didn't charge us for the ones we were served at the table.
Some of our guys weren't happy with the service and if the 18 percent gratuity hadn't been included on the bill, our server probably wouldn't have gotten much more than a 10 percent tip from us. I didn't think they were all that busy, but he seemed to be a little slow on the switch. Other than the poor margaritas and the choppy service, I thought the food that I had at Sol Irlande's was very good. The brisket tacos were great and the beef enchilada with the tomatillo sauce on top was very good. Everyone seemed to like their food, but the somewhat poor service sort of bummed us out. If you can get a good server, I'm sure that the experience at Sol Irlande's would be much better than what we experienced that particular evening.