MAPLEWOOD, NJ — A day before heading to this establishment, I was speaking with my friend, Paul, and I mentioned I would be reviewing St. James’s Gate. Paul was born in Ireland and he frequents the pub. He said it is just like the pubs in Ireland and the best one in the area. I was looking forward to going to the pub and seeing for myself.
On a sunny afternoon the dining team went to review St. James’s Gate. Upon approaching the pub, a wonderful aroma was enticing us to enter. It was quaint and cozy, with a casual feel. The walls are adorned with prints and old-time Irish photos in addition to a harp hanging above a gas-burning fireplace. A plaque declares the restaurant as the “Best of Jersey,” as published in New Jersey Monthly — I think “Best of Jersey” says it all.
The interior was dimly lit and slightly crowded, with happy voices filling the air — including those of the friendly and helpful staff. Paul was right; I felt like I had been transported to a pub in Ireland. Even the tables and chairs, which are imported from Ireland, gave that impression. The venue also boasts three large-screen televisions, each tuned to a different program.
The bar floor is made from old vats from St. James’s Gate Brewery, where an Irish favorite, Guinness, began to be brewed in 1759. The restaurant had 15 beers on tap and Guinness is No. 1.
We had the pleasure of meeting John Meade Sr., who has been the proud owner of the pub for the last 14 years. He told us about some of the restaurant’s many lively events and happenings. The restaurant offers live Irish music two Sundays each month from 2 to 5 p.m. The restaurant features a raw bar on Fridays from 4 to 7 p.m.
In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day on Friday, March 17, the restaurant usually opens at 8 a.m. Many regulars stop by for a traditional Irish breakfast and a couple of pints before heading to the parade in New York City. This is a fun place to start the festivities for sure.
After telling us more about his establishment, Meade said his farewells and left us to enjoy our meal.
We were looking at the menus when Steve, the executive chef, approached. He was very cordial and informed us he would be preparing our food, offering to answer any questions we might have about some of the dishes. After a chat with Steve, we felt ready to place our order.
For starters we selected Celtic wings, bacon fries and espresso-glazed bacon. When our appetizers arrived, they all looked delicious — and they tasted great, too. The Celtic wings were terrific; I had ordered the Buffalo wings served mild and they were paired with blue cheese and celery. The fries were breaded with thick-cut Applewood-smoked bacon and served with homemade applesauce. This dish took potatoes to a new dimension. The espresso bacon was a thick cut of bacon and apple with an espresso-maple glaze; this dish almost took on an Asian flavor.
For our soup and salad course, we ordered potato leek and baked Irish onion soups, and a house salad. The soups were served in small cauldrons, which added to our delight. The potato leek was a cream of potato, leek, truffle oil, microgreens and cracked black pepper; it was a pleasant blend, which dazzled my tastebuds. The onion soup included Jameson Irish Whiskey, gruyere cheese and rye bread. I love onion soup and St. James’s Gate’s onion soup was the best I’ve ever had. The house salad, which had mixed greens, tomatoes and cucumbers topped in an Irish whiskey vinaigrette, was fresh and tasty.
Every portion was large, leaving us plenty to take home for later. And our entrees were no different.
My two companions ordered the fish and chips and, as I was starting to feel sated, I ordered the hot corned beef sandwich. Our food arrived shortly. The fish and chips was a 9-ounce Guinness beer-battered white fish with house chips, coleslaw and tartar sauce; both of my companions were delighted with this entree. My corned beef sandwich was an 8-ounce lean serving of corned beef on rye with coleslaw; it was very moist and tender. Unable to stop myself, I also ordered onion rings, which were crispy and flavorful.
As full as we were, we knew we had to try dessert, so we shared a brownie a la mode. The only word I can use to describe this warm brownie served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce is decadent.
Based on the food we ate, it seems clear that St. James’s Gate serves the best food. Everything we ate was delicious and came in large portions. And, despite being a pub and serving alcohol, the restaurant is family-friendly.
Readers, if you haven’t tried St. James’s Gate, what are you waiting for? This establishment is a must for anyone who enjoys a good meal.
Text by food correspondent Anne Santos and photos by photographer David VanDeventer.