2250 Niagara Falls Blvd., Tonawanda, NY 14150
Web: Shannon Pub
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"Whatever might be said about the modest excitement generated by the individual ingredients, they were so generous and mouth-filling as to be collectively enjoyable."
As much as we enjoy The Irishman, we're glad that fans of Irish food have another good suburban option: located on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Tonawanda, Shannon Pub is a very strong American and Irish restaurant - one that takes a slightly different approach from its Williamsville rival, and consequently may well appeal to an even broader crowd. Whereas The Irishman is a small, almost upscale space with an decidedly ethnic vibe, Shannon Pub is a larger and less highbrow venue with more seating capacity, comparatively casual servers, and a bigger menu. At least five Irish beers are available, four on tap and one in bottled form, along with additional domestic and local options.
Four of us enjoyed our brief struggle to figure out which items to sample from the seven-page menu, which draws more from local and American favorites than truly Irish fare. In addition to the standards - wings, weck, and various meat and fish sandwiches in the $7 to $11 range - a page of the menu is devoted largely to fried and sauteed seafood entrees, with another offering char-broiled steak, pork chops, and chicken, the latter mostly priced from $11 to $16. A single page of "Irish specialties" contains only seven choices, three of which we opted to try; we also ordered a bowl of Potato Chowder ($4.50), another of French Onion Soup ($4.25), a Sampler Platter that let us experience four of Shannon's appetizers, and a fourth entree that was entirely American. All these dishes had one thing in common: we enjoyed literally every one of them, and spent as much time talking about our satisfaction during the meal as anything else. We also really appreciated our young, energetic server, who was clearly making every attempt to take care of our group's needs, and succeeding.
Though our meal technically started with included house salads - cut lettuce, cucumber, cherry tomato, red onion and croutons, all fresh but not memorable - and a plate of simple, acceptable bread rolls and butter, it really kicked off with the soups. So unexpectedly delicious was the Potato Chowder that spoons appeared from all corners of the table to sample the rich, creamy broth, which contained pieces of both chopped potatoes and a mysterious meat that wasn't in any way mentioned on the menu. Vegetarian it obviously wasn't, and some at our table wondered whether it had been accented with clams: it turned out that Shannon actually adds bits of salty corned beef to the chowder with impressive texture and flavor effects. Similarly, as routine as the classic crock of French Onion Soup has become, Shannon's version was markedly enhanced with a liberal top sprinkling of paprika: this spice really charmed our tongues, rendering the soft but slightly too sparse melted cheese and sweet beef broth just a little richer and more interesting. It was actually one of the best overall French Onion bowls we can recall having locally.
Rather than ordering individual appetizers, we split the $11 Sampler Platter, which included Shannon's chicken wings, chicken fingers, onion rings and potato skins - all available in larger, dedicated portions as well. There wasn't a plain item on the plate: the five wings were medium-large, crispy, and a nice combination of spicy and buttery, with the same sauce on the three surprisingly large, breaded fingers. One of us found the fingers to be too thin and crunchy, but the other forgave that issue due to the unusually good wing sauce. The onion rings were good but few in number, and the potato skins were similarly good, though not special. Bleu cheese and sour cream were on the plate to diminish the Sampler Platter's health factor even further.
Shannon's Irish and quasi-Irish entrees were all good, too. The Corned Beef with Cabbage ($11) - an American St. Patrick's Day favorite featuring Irish salted meat - was a large, generous octagonal plate loaded with a stack of thick slabs of beef, each hot, fresh, and satisfying. A quarter head of steamed cabbage sat off to its side, along with cooked baby carrots and red potatoes; this substantial dish completely filled and entirely satisfied our group's corned beef fan, leaving pieces to take home afterwards. Similarly, the $10 Shepherd's Pie was much larger than we'd expected for the price, an oval-shaped bowl with a broiled mashed potato topping and an undercarriage of spiced ground beef and chopped veggies. Served with an appropriate warning as to its heat, the Pie's belly was more memorable for its blazing temperature than its stew-like flavor, which was somehow preserved intact despite a potato topping that might as easily have absorbed it.
Similar in ingredients but different in preparation and proportions was the Irish Lamb Stew ($10), a large bowl that kept its egg-sized potatoes intact, heightened the level of meaty broth, and left its numerous meat chunks large enough to qualify as big bite-sized. Whatever might be said about the modest excitement generated by the individual ingredients, they were so generous and mouth-filling as to be collectively enjoyable - anyone ordering a bowl of stew would be thrilled to receive this one, and despite its submersion, the lamb tasted as gamey as it should have, not like beef. Once again, this dish wasn't amazing, but it was quite good; we preferred it to the Shepherd's Pie.
Last but not least was the Crab Stuffed Haddock ($11), the American-styled entree we sampled. Served on a plate with a mix of steamed vegetables, macaroni salad and cole slaw, the Haddock also included our choice of potatoes. We went with the Salt Potatoes, a bowl of buttery, salted red potatoes that have been hits at earlier Western New York Irish Festivals. They weren't remarkable but tasted nice enough - quite oily by comparison with the white wine and light butter-broiled fish, which was filled with a very good, crabmeat-heavy stuffing. Some places would have served the fish alone for a similar price; combined with a salad, this filet and all its sides left us way too stuffed to consider dessert.
All in all, we were more than pleased by Shannon Pub: four of us ate extremely well for $60 before drinks, finding the portions generous and the flavors at least as appealing as we'd hoped - sometimes better. Though The Irishman's menu offers more upscale and in some cases more interesting options, we paid as much on one occasion for two people to eat there as four people ate here, and we had more mixed impressions of Irishman's food thereafter. Budget-conscious diners, particularly those looking for American options with some Irish fare and a handful of beers as alternatives, will especially appreciate this very good, understated place with impressive service.