Our Gourmet: Good cheer and great food in BristolMarch 20. 2018 11:06PM
When you step inside Kathleen’s in Bristol near Newfound Lake you enter an atmosphere of warmth, good cheer and boundless Irish hospitality.
Kathleen’s Cottage changed its name to Kathleen’s Irish Pub last year, but some of the signs still refer to its “cottage” past.
Regardless of the name, Kathleen’s is a quintessential Irish pub that defies time. Kathleen’s serves up hearty Irish pub fare, plenty of authentic Irish beers and spirits, a large collection of heart-warming Irish signs and sayings, and friendly, unhurried service that allows relaxation and comfort, except on St. Patrick’s Day, we were told.
We deftly maneuvered around the holiday this year and appeared at the doorstep on an afternoon not reserved for parades, green beer and tributes to Erin’s patron saint.
Walk into Kathleen’s and you are in the bar, the restaurant and the greeting area, without taking another step. A cozy cocktail corner is directly ahead, a dining area to the left, another to the right, and much farther to the right and toward the rear is a large area used for movie night, special occasions, live music and dancing.
You’ll find Irish sayings (“Please Mind the Sheep”) and Irish greetings, goodbyes and prayers on the walls, along with countless Guinness placards, and several nifty window scenes depicting an Irish countryside.
The menu features bangers, New England fare, Guinness Onion Soup, beet salads, Irish stew, an RLT (rasher, lettuce and tomato), and a handful of desserts that mean business.
Listed among the appetizers is a $6 pint of Guinness “because it is good for you.” Enough said.
We dove in to a platter of Irish Boxty Wedges ($9) and a bowl of Guinness Onion Soup ($6). Boxty wedges are thin potato pancakes fried golden-brown with a warm cheddar-cheese dip. They went perfectly with the soup, a thick, melted-cheese topped mixture of different varieties of onions simmered with seasonings and, of course, a bit of the Guinness.
Melted Swiss cheese, homemade croutons and the Boxty wedges made for a great accompaniment to the hot broth and tasty onions.
We saved the Bangers and Mash ($15) and Shepherd’s Pie ($16) for another day because two sandwiches caught our attention.
The Lamb Burger ($13) was a delicious ground lamb patty infused with rosemary and roasted garlic, topped by an ample serving of goat cheese and served on an outstanding focaccia bun with lettuce, tomatoes, and sliced onions, and accompanied by nicely seasoned and well-fried sliced potatoes (chips, to the Europeans).
This lamb burger had a distinctly different flavor than your standard beef burger, and the goat cheese blended boldly with all of the toppings.
But it was the focaccia bun that was nearly the standout ingredient of the burger — and the entire meal. It was warm, and soft to the bite, with a terrific fresh-baked flavor and large little pockets inside, adept at holding condiments, toppings and juice from the lamb. A very tasty sandwich bun that drew our interest and applause.
Sandwiches and burgers at Kathleen’s are also served in wraps or brioche, if you prefer, but we think you should stick with the focaccia bun.
Another terrific sandwich was the Giants Causeway ($12) served in a spinach tortilla wrap, which was loaded with tasty items including grilled chicken, accompanied by hickory-smoked bacon, sliced avocado, blue cheese dressing, romaine, tomato and onions. A hearty and thick wrap this was, but well-built and assembled with care to hold together, even allowing last-minute additions of condiments.
The grilled chicken was tender, warm and moist, and left no doubt that this was, essentially, a chicken sandwich, with properly featured fowl.
Throughout our meal we enjoyed easy banter and some laughs with our server, Melissa, along with Kathleen herself, who ventured out from the kitchen, and another server who helped Melissa, and patrons on either side of our table.
Kathleen’s is a cool, low-key and friendly place, and offers traditional Irish music played low in the background. In addition, a large list of activities outside on the chalkboard (movie night, trivia night, traditional Irish music, guest musicians, Mexican night) makes Kathleen’s a community leader in things to do in Bristol.
If dessert is your thing, there are five on the menu (plus specials). We chose Sticky Toffee Pudding ($9), which was a great dish. Two layers of moist sponge cake made with finely chopped dates, surrounding a layer of toffee sauce, topped by a layer of sweet cream — and all of it topped by another dose of warm, sticky toffee sauce. An outstanding dessert in every way.
The restaurant says, “May your home always be too small to hold all your friends.” If Kathleen’s is ever too small in the summer, there is a patio right outside what used to be the front door of the red brick country house, an easy-to-spot fixture on Bristol’s main street.
Inside at the bar you will find what the menu boasts is “NH’s Largest Irish Whiskey List.” We will have to save that particular exploration for a cool summer evening, at the bar or outside under the stars, where “A Good Laugh and a Long Sleep are the Two Best Cures.”
And, perhaps, a shot of Irish whiskey and some sticky toffee pudding.