Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a sucker for all holidays and celebratory occasions. And I mean all. Not just the “big” ones like Valentine’s, Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving but also maple syrup season (which just happens to be going on right now!), cherry blossom season, harvest and apple season and let’s not forget, St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow! Ever since I started Ate by Ate, I’ve had my heart set on doing themed posts for all of them but given time constraints and bad weather, sometimes it feels almost impossible to do posts for everything. So I decided to change my approach. Instead of waiting until the last minute to get photos and stories, I would just do them early, if I could. Does it mean I might miss out on being right in the thick of the moment? Sure. But I would rather have something to show for it than nothing at all. I’m always so disappointed when I don’t get to celebrate on the blog because I waited until the week or weekend of and things just happen to fall through.
So this time around, I had my Irish food for St. Patrick’s Day early. Very early. In fact, I had my incredibly delicious St. Patrick’s Day meal over a month ago! And it’s here and hot off the press. Well, the photos and story anyway, not the food. True, I wasn’t surrounded by happy partygoers clad in green apparel but the nice thing about this is that going to an Irish pub and restaurant means that we can kind of celebrate life with Irish food whenever we want. And I just happened to celebrate over a month early at P.J. O’Brien in downtown Toronto.
I remember the day so well. It was one of the coldest, dreariest, grayest days this winter but for whatever reason, the bite in the air eased up a little bit right around lunch hour when I hurriedly scurried out onto Colborne St. just southwest of King and Church to take photos outside. The building that P.J. O’Brien resides in would brighten even the darkest, gloomiest of days. It has to be one of my favourite buildings in the city. Nestled between the towering structures in the financial district and the historic ones of old town Toronto sits a three-storey building as bright and cheerful and charming as a Lego house. Equipped with bright blue window shutters and painted sunny golden yellow, P.J. O’Brien is a beacon of culinary happiness.
Their dining room and bar areas are simultaneously cozy and spacious with plenty of space for large groups and intimate get-togethers. I love the tables by the front windows. Perfect for taking in the large dining room and bar around you and for taking photos with natural light! Open 6 days a week from Monday to Saturday from 11am to the wee hours of the morning (1am from Monday to Friday and 2am on Saturday), P.J. O’Brien delivers a mix of comfort food, pub fare and Irish classics with flair including Kilkenny Ale fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, beef and Guinness stew, sausage and chips, and my pick: corned beef and cabbage!
I had the hardest time choosing between the beef and Guinness stew, sausage and chips, and the corned beef and cabbage. All of them sounded delicious, all of them screamed warmth and comfort and Irish goodness but with only one stomach, I could only choose one. Sigh. So after much deliberation, I chose the corned beef and cabbage ($15): a wedge of freshly steamed cabbage alongside two giant scoops of creamy mashed potatoes with sprigs of fresh flat leaf parsley and three moist and juicy pieces of corned beef smothered in rich brown gravy sauce, with an extra side of tartar sauce that I specifically ordered to go with my meal because I am a crazy nut for tartar sauce! This meal is everything comfort food should be and really, the closest I’ve ever been to Ireland’s food in my life. It was piping hot and SO. INCREDIBLY. DELICIOUS.
I loved it so much not only because it scrumptious but because it’s something I don’t have all the time. Or ever, really. I eat mashed potatoes and deli corned beef (or breakfast hash) and the occasional bite of cabbage, but never all together and certainly never in such a yummy capacity. The mashed potatoes were fluffy and airy (not gluey!), the cabbage was tender yet crisp (and without the strong tang of bitterness that usually makes me shy away from cabbage) and the corned beef was melt-in-your-mouth soft. It wasn’t difficult to bite into or cut through at all and its savouriness was perfect; not too salty but far from bland. Even without the sauce I would have loved it and I really appreciated the thickness of it (imagine the thickness of luncheon meat slices. Or just look at the photos) and having it in three pieces as opposed to one giant overwhelming slab. It made it easier to eat and made for a lovely presentation.
And if you can believe it, it gets better. My meal came with a basket of bread and butter and by golly that bread and butter was some of the best bread and butter I’ve ever had. I know. It’s only bread and butter. But think about it, even something as simple as bread and butter can go horribly awry (or rye…haha). The bread can be too hard or too dry and the butter can be too difficult to spread. But theirs was so good I was tempted to eat the entire thing all by myself in one sitting but I had enough sense just to eat a few pieces and save the rest for my doggy bag along with a piece of corned beef and some cabbage.
I’m a hungry girl but I’m not known for being the queen of the doggy bag (or tupperware) for nothing.
I’m so happy I got to enjoy my ‘St. Patrick’s Day’ meal when I did and I hope that if you’re in around the downtown core tomorrow that you’ll stop by P.J. O’Brien for a bite to celebrate the great food and actual festivities. You’ll be glad you did.
P.J. O’Brien is an Irish pub and restaurant located in downtown Toronto at 39 Colborne St., just south of King Street East and just west of Church St. They are open Monday through Saturday from 11am – 1am (2am on Saturday). Visit their official website at http://pjobrien.com/