112 King St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
CUISINE Irish/Welsh, International, Bar/Pub Grub
PRICE $$$ ($21-$30)
HOURS Open for lunch and dinner daily; weekend brunch.
NVM AWARDS Best Restaurant 2008
Best Restaurant 2009
NEARBY METRO None
By Warren Rojas
Food: 7.6 Ambiance: 7.8 Service: 7.4
“Would you like a beer?”
“Yes, I would,” replied the just-arrived guest.
“Then you’re in the right place,” teased the silver-tongued barkeep at the devilishly fun Daniel O’Connell’s.
This place is first and foremost a pub.
But seasonally-inspired chef Colin Abernethy has made it his mission to send out dishes that would be right at home in any of the white tablecloth establishments that share the same postal code.
An open-faced arrangement of toasted honey-oat bread, salt-packed rashers, extra sharp cheddar and whiskey-tinged whole grain mustard provides a tour of the old country in every bite.
Savory lamb, hearty potatoes and an army of resplendent peas bob in a wholesome stew that girds the loins no matter what the weather.
A marriage of roasted-till-unbelievably-tender carrots and parsnips (root vegetables at their finest) escorts lemon-stuffed chicken, the handsomely trussed game hen sporting golden skin and boasts citrus-spiked meat, for a harvest feast.(November 2008)
By Warren Rojas
Food: 7.7 Ambiance: 7.6 Service: 6.9
Though not yet a threat to that other Irish food-slinger further up King Street, Daniel O’Connell’s has certainly made great strides towards solidifying itself as a respectable dining spot in just a few short years.
The popular gathering place continues to draw its share of jersey-clad expats who’ve come to catch the latest futbol matches. But local professionals are just as likely to conduct unofficial business meetings over proper Guinness pints.
Though owner Mark Kirwan can claim credit for the authentic Irish feel of the place, the contemporary cuisine being spun out of the kitchen is all courtesy of executive chef Colin Abernethy.
Pancetta-wrapped tuna is peppered on top, Italian baconed in the middle and mushroom hashed at its base (each tier more delicious than the last). Pulled pheasant is tossed with candied nuts, goat cheese and dried fruits, and then anointed in bacon-molasses vinaigrette. Pepper-rubbed pork loin joins bonus pulled pork atop buttery wild rice (salt, pepper, fat; this dish has it all).(March 2008)
By Warren Rojas
“I’d be living in here if I lived down here,” declared one of my Irish associates after a visit to Daniel O’Connell’s—an upscale pub and restaurant parked near the Old Town Alexandria waterfront.
Owner Mark Kirwan (from Tipperary) took over the old Bullfeather’s spot a few years ago and has raised in its stead a living tribute to salvaged properties—including a nearly 400-year-old, hand-carved mirror plucked from Waterford Castle in County Waterford, a lovingly resurrected pharmacy counter excised from County Carlow, and a church pulpit transplanted from County Cork—from all across Ireland.
“It’s not a Disney-Ireland pub,” he said, noting that he assembled a crack team of Irish carpenters and masons to piece together every bit of the multi-level establishment. “There’s a great deal of history in the whole place.”
Their attention to detail is well appreciated. The tiny area known as Brennan’s bar reeks of history, ranging from the faded snapshots of prominent Irish dignitaries to the long-ago charm of the semi-private “snugs” (hideaway cubbies tucked into the front corners of the bar). Kirwan’s bar features more antique fixtures and heavily lacquered woodwork but also boasts a contemporary, stone fireplace.
Kirwan said Old Town’s rich Irish history made it the logical choice for his first privately funded venture. “We really wanted to make this a stepping stone to those who might want to visit Ireland,” he said of the new restaurant, adding that he has returned home at least three times since opening in March 2006 just to recruit more front-of-the-house personnel.
“Part of our success story is that there are real Irish people, fresh off the boat, if you will,” he estimated.
Manager Trini Hughes may no longer be considered a “boat person” (she’s been stateside for nearly a decade), but she hasn’t lost a step since arriving from Tipperary. When a customer barks that he’ll have a Guinness for dessert, she fires back, “Priorities. I like that.”
The kitchen is headed by executive chef Colin Abernethy (a Culinary Institute of America grad), an able hand who turns out traditional Irish fare alongside several signature creations (rack of lamb, surf and turf, cedar-plank salmon).
The beer-battered bangers yield a jolly array of lightly fried, but still terrifically juicy, sausages that get even better when swabbed down with Lakeshore’s beer-based wholegrain mustard. A short ribs starter that’s big on flavor reveals a bone-in mass of Guinness-braised meat surrounded by mashed potatoes and root vegetables. A simple-sounding rashers sandwich summons an open-faced feast of grilled Irish ham (thick, chewy slices) and melted cheddar (mild sharpness with good overall flavor) bolstered by wholegrain mustard. Meanwhile, the ultra-savory Kirwan burger—“people absolutely adore that,” the namesake asserts —produces a hearty, ground lamb patty smothered with crumbled, Cashel blue cheese.
Traditional Irish quenchers include Guinness, Smithwick’s, Harp, Magners cider and a pair of locally-produced house beers (DO ale and lager courtesy of Ashburn’s Old Dominion Brewing Company), as well Boddingtons in cans. Whiskeys include Bushmills, Midleton, Powers, as well as scotches like Scapa, Isle of Jura, Glenkinchie, 12- and 15-year-old Glenfiddich, Oban, Laphroaig, Balvenie, Glenlivet, Speyburn, Glenmorangie, Deanston, Aberlour, Highland Park, Bruichladdich, Talisker, Dalmore and Famous Grouse.