By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Downtown News
If shamrocks had seven petals, they’d be growing at Hennessey’s, an American-Irish tavern where good fortunes are for the plucking, every day of the week.
Sitting alongside little buckets of free table pretzels are specials cards revealing some rather impressive discounts on food and drinks. On Sundays after 3 p.m., for instance, you can luck out with two hand-carved turkey dinners for $12.95 total. Or from 4 to 9 p.m. on Mondays, a 12-ounce rib eye with baked beans, corn on the cob and a Coors draft sells for the same price, while “wine-down” Wednesdays feature vinos by the bottle sold at half off.
Visiting with a passionate carnivore in tow, we encountered “two-timin’ Tuesday,” which means you can hog down two burgers for the price of one. Although you’d be wise to split the deal with a pal if opting for the caloric Bavarian burger, featuring a dry-aged beef patty tucked into a pretzel bun with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and a hunky slab of turkey-pork sausage. Bring on the Guinness!
Hennessey’s so far is the only place in San Diego where I’ve seen burgers made with ground, dry-aged cuts of beef. It’s a wonderful reinvention that raises the flavor to something resembling steak while stoking it with those pleasant, elusive sour notes that dry-aging imparts. In addition to a few other dry-aged choices, the menu offers a host of turkey, veggie and regular beef burgers, as well.
Irish-inspired entrees rise to the occasion in the form of shepherd’s pie with burgundy wine sauce, as well as fish and chips using beer-battered cod filets. The latter were crisp and light, giving way to medium-cut fries salted just right, flawless slaw and a ramekin of tartar sauce harboring discernible bits of sweet pickle.
In addition, fans of Jameson Irish Whiskey will easily detect the product’s malted, toffee-like flavor lurking deliciously in a toothsome barbecue sauce clinging to ribs. I can’t make the same claim for “whiskey ribs” I’ve sampled in other eateries, where the alcohol’s flavor notes vanished during the cooking process. These were tender, charry and teasingly boozy.
Irish nachos oblige those dropping in primarily for beer, martinis or vodka-spiked lemonade. Instead of tortilla chips, the nachos involve a bedding of thinly sliced potatoes blanketed judiciously by Irish cheddar, scallions and applewood smoked bacon. The dish carries all the goodness of stuffed potato skins, but deconstructed and easily devoured with a fork.
Remaining menu items cover all the bases of a full-scale tavern, with things like prime rib sliders, blackened ahi salads, Reuben sandwiches and grilled salmon. Sweet endings include banana royale and homemade bread pudding containing whispers of cinnamon. Served hot, it strikes a melting contrast to the vanilla ice cream on top.
Hennessey’s casual bill of fare corresponds to a relaxed atmosphere, featuring ample seating, hospitable service and windows that open to the urban bustle of Fourth Avenue and G Street. Spawned 36 years ago from its original digs in Hermosa Beach, the Gaslamp location maintains a 10-year run, which Irish proverb would describe as, “giving a thousand welcomes when anyone comes.”
Hennessey’s is located at 708 Fourth Ave. in the Gaslamp. 619-239-9994
Prices: Breakfast, $6.50 to $11; burgers, sandwiches and entrees, $8.50 to $14.95. For more information, visit www.hennesseystavern.com.