One evening when we were in Western Michigan for our little long weekend trip earlier this year, Cindy and I decided that we wanted to keep it low key and eat at one of the more casual establishments in downtown Holland. (Have I said how nice of town Holland is and how great their downtown shopping and restaurant area is?) We had our choice between two - the New Holland Brewing Company and Curragh Irish Pub right across the street. Cindy liked the idea of eating at an Irish Pub, so we decided upon eating at Curragh that evening. (See map)
Curragh (pronounced CURR-ack with sort of a phlegmy throaty emphasis on the "ack") is named after the home of flatland racing in Ireland, the Curragh Racetrack, a historic race track that hosts all five of the classic Irish horse races - including the Irish Derby - and has been around since the 1700's. It's documented that chariot races were held on the grounds of the Curragh race track in the third century.
The original Curragh Irish Pub opened in 1999 in Schaumburg, IL next to the massive Woodfield Mall. But the roots of the pub go back even further to a Chicago area restaurant called J.J. Finnegan's that was started by Jim Leongas in 1984. His son, Paul Leongas, was the managing partner for the first Curragh and they later opened a second Curragh location in Skokie. (The original location in Schaumburg had to move due to development of a strip mall on the spot where the building stood. They moved the original building, piece by piece, to its present day location on Northwest Highway in the Chicago suburb of Edison Park.)
Jim Leongas opened a J.J. Finnegan's in Holland, MI in 1988 and it was run by his daughter, Sophia. Sophia and her husband, Dave Jurgensen, opened the third Curragh in Holland around 2006 and closed the J.J. Finnegan's restaurant in Holland in 2009. They hired an Irish ex-patriot, Glen Behan, to run the day-to-day operations at the Curragh.
My old neighbor, George, is half-Irish and he used to scoff at an establishment that called itself an "Irish pub" when it would put up a couple Irish flags in the place and have Guinness on tap. George wouldn't have any trouble with Curragh calling themselves an Irish pub - the place is Irish, through and through. The inside of the bar has an old Irish feeling down to the wooden bars (two of them) in the place. A number of televisions are interspersed throughout the place and Curragh Irish Pub is the unofficial soccer headquarters for Western Michigan, showing games from Europe on satellite sports channels. Flags of all the European countries are on display, hanging from the ceiling. In fact, there was no other sports on television other than soccer that evening.
There is an seating area at Curragh that features open air seating or seating under an awning. When we checked in at the outside hostess stand, we were asked if we wanted inside or outside seating. Clouds were moving in and rain was forecast for later in the evening, so we sort of hemmed and hawed for a moment before we decided on sitting outside at one of the wrought iron tables with similar chairs. The patio was about a third full that evening - a Sunday night - not a big night in Holland. They've only had Sunday beer sales available in the town for about four years.
We were given menus and Kelly, our server for the evening, came over to take our drink order. I ordered a Smithwick's and Cindy got a Bass. (I later found out that they had Magic Hat 9 on tap, as well. I was kicking myself because Cindy would have liked that better than she likes Bass.)
While we were looking through the menu, I began to kind of notice that the clouds to the west were churning up rather quickly. I got out my smartphone and punched up Weatherbug to see the local radar. There was a rather large storm that was just off the western coast of Michigan not far from Holland. When I showed it to Cindy, I said, "I think maybe we'd better move inside."
She looked over at the seating under the awning, hoping there would be an open table under there. But there wasn't. When Kelly came out with our beers I showed her the radar image on my phone. I said, "You know, this looks like it's coming in sooner than later and I would rather not have to interupt my meal to pick up and go. Is there a possibility that we could move inside now?"
Kelly said, "Oh my gosh! Well, yes! Let's move you inside." She left our beers and delivered two more to another table before she came back. She picked up both of our beers, beer coasters and menus and put them back on her tray. We protested that we could carry all that ourselves, but she wouldn't let us. We asked if she would be taking care of us inside and she said that she could. Kelly got a good tip that evening for being overly accommodating.
Most of the food on the menu at Curragh is your typical Irish pub fare - shepherd's pie, fish and chips, Irish stew, cottage pie. They also had some steaks, seafood, burgers and sandwiches on the menu. We had eaten a late lunch earlier in the day, but it was after 8 p.m. when we were seated inside the Curragh. Cindy was on a seafood kick and I was looking for a good hearty dinner.
The shepherd's pie and the corned beef with cabbage were suddenly at the top of my list, but my eyes wandered down the menu and saw something called "Galway Bay Seafood Fleadh". (Fleadh is Gaelic for "festival".) It featured a north Atlantic pollack filet, stuffed with shrimp, crab meat and marscapone (a very rich Italian-style cheese), then baked in an oven. It was served with a lime hollandaise sauce, griddle fried potato-crab cakes and vegetables. Ooooooohhhh! That sounded great! But I wasn't in the mood for seafood that evening. (As I write this, my stomach is doing jumping jacks. If we get back there at some point, I'm getting that.)
I also was looking at the Sea Salt and Herb-rubbed beef tenderloin filet - an 8 oz. seasoned filet, grilled then drizzled with a sweet lemon ancho chile butter that would give it a little sweet and smoky bite. Mmmmm.... Decisions, decisions.
I was trying to get Cindy to get the Galway Bay Seafood Fleadh (mainly so I could have a couple bites), but one of the specials that evening was a salad that featured sea scallops, greens and chopped veggies. Cindy thought that would be good to get. She also ordered a cup of the Guinness cheese soup - a mixture of sausage, potatoes and onion with a cheddar cheese/Guinness beer base - for us to share.
When Kelly asked me what I wanted, I was still torn. I thought the North Atlantic stuffed pollack would be great, but it also sounded pretty rich. Shepherd's pie is also pretty rich and I wasn't THAT hungry. When I heard myself say, "Corned beef and cabbage", I still didn't know if that was what I really wanted.
When Kelly brought out the "cup" of Cindy's Guinness cheese soup, I remarked, "Geez, Cindy! I'm glad you didn't order the bowl!"
Kelly said, "Oh, we just have one size for the soup. It's sort of in between a bowl and a cup."
And you want to talk about rich! Hoo boy, that soup was almost a meal in itself. It featured large chunks of potatoes (I couldn't really tell if there was sausage in there or not) in a very rich cheese base. It was good, but I didn't want to eat much more than about three spoonfuls of the stuff. I was afraid it would spoil my dinner.
As we pushed what was left of the soup away from us, we noticed that more people were coming in from the outside. A couple of ladies who were seated near us came by our table and one of them said, "You guys were smart coming in when you did!"
Cindy asked, "Is it starting to rain?"
The lady said, "Well, not yet, but the wind's come up and it's gotten cooler. It looks like it's only a matter of moments before it will start to rain."
Not long after that, Kelly brought our food to the table. The corned beef and cabbage featured only a few small cuts of corned beef with a couple scoops of mashed potatoes, both topped with a horseradish sauce. A generous amount of cabbage came with it, but I concentrated primarily on the corned beef and potatoes. The corned beef was very tender and flavorful, and I really enjoyed the creamy horseradish sauce on the top. I should have asked for fresh ground horseradish, come to think of it. But it was good enough as it was. But quite honestly, I don't think there's not much you can do to corned beef and cabbage to make it any different from restaurant to restaurant.
Cindy's salad was exactly what she wanted. It was light and tasty with some greens, chopped carrots, peppers and sprinkled with herbs. She offered me one of the scallops and they were plump and cooked perfectly - not overcooked to where they're rubbery, but not undercooked where they're kind of squishy in the middle.
I know Cindy really liked the Curragh Irish Pub a lot. "We made the right choice," she said, meaning that we could have had dinner across the street at the New Holland Brewing Company. We did say that the next time we come back to Holland that we'd have to try the brewpub, but we'd also have to come back to Curragh at some point, as well. The food was good for an Irish pub, the service was impeccable, the decor and ambience of the place made it feel like you were in a true Irish pub back in the homeland. We couldn't do anything but recommend Curragh as a must stop when you're in Holland.