Irish Delights for St. Patrick’s Day – Corned Beef & Gravy with Cabbage & Mashed Potatoes at P.J. O’Brien!

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restaurant.front.pjobrienAnyone 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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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*****

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/

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Creamy Chicken Soup & Saucy Curry Rice & Smoked Haddock Kedgeree with Poached Egg – Warm & Delicious British Flavours at The Oxley!

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Okay, who else has been glued to the television (or their laptop or tablet or phone) watching the Olympics this week?!  My brother and I love watching sports.  Always have, always will.  It’s a very special thing that bonds us together as siblings so when the Olympics roll around every 2 years (summer and winter, don’t forget!) it’s like a sports and television party in our living room.  We’re fascinated by the events, we’re captivated by the speed, the crazy flips and spins, and down-to-the-tenth-of-a-second finishes, and we love the feeling of celebration and pride for our team and athletes.  We stay up late watching recaps from the day and we catch whatever coverage we can early in the morning before leaving the house.  It’s so much fun and I love it.

Watching the Olympics take place in Sochi totally inspired me to do a little research on Russian food and Russian food in Toronto and while I’ve found some very cool options to check out, I really don’t think I’ll be able to go to them and then post before the Olympics are over, but at the very least it’s given me some creative juice to work with.  So even though I don’t have any Russian cuisine to share with you guys, I do have overseas eats for you all today: British food from The Oxley!

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Aside from the photo spotlight post I did on my British cookbook, this is the first post on Ate by Ate about British food and I’m so excited!  Going to London is on my bucket list of places to visit at some point in my life.  I salivate at the thought of visiting Twinings, Harrods and Hummingbird Bakery so until I can fly across the Atlantic and park myself down at one of the many afternoon tea spots, bakeries and pubs there, indulging in some British fare here in the city will have to soothe those daydreams for the time being.

The Oxley, located on Yorkville Ave. in Yorkville in a drop-dead gorgeous two-storey cherry red brick house, is the sister restaurant to The Queen and Beaver in downtown Toronto, a popular English pub and watering hole that serves both British and Scottish food.  The Oxley is all sorts of fabulous.  During the summer, it’s like being around an English courtyard and in the winter, it warms you up and makes you feel so cozy with its part English pub, part bar, part home living room vibe.  You should see the place inside.  I had the luxury of sitting and eating upstairs (a food blogger needs her natural light by the window!) and it’s unlike any other dining area I’ve ever been in.  With its long bar with leather bar stools, mahogany tables, hard-wood flooring, black armchairs, deep purple cushioned seating, floral wallpaper, paisley patterned rugs and Union Jack by the bar window, the upstairs dining room is like a scene out of Sherlock Holmes novel.  And I got to have a corner seat by the window all my by myself.  I LOVED IT.

This is prime real estate, folks.

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Their menu is so full of warmth and British character and flavour.  I will preface this next part though by saying that if you’re looking for an inexpensive meal, look elsewhere.  I think The Oxley is an amazing place to have a special lunch or dinner but if you’re just looking for something simple and casual money-wise, you’re not going to find it here simply because many of their mains come in between $16 -$24 (with appetizers $8 – $14, sides a la carte for $6, bar menu bites $8 – $12, and bar menu mains $18 – $26).  Which is fine with me!  I’m not made out of money but I’m constantly considering and evaluating what means the most to me and what would give me the most happiness so I don’t mind putting down the dough to enjoy a meal here because it’s worth it to me every once in awhile.  But I know others may feel differently so I want to be completely honest with you guys so you don’t get the impression that this is something you can do every day!

The menu is chock full of British classics including rabbit and potato pie, fish and chips, Stilton and mushrooms on toasts, Huntsman’s pie, venison and mushroom suet pudding, and fish pie and peas.  I went all out on the winter comfort food with my choices: Cream of Chicken with Tarragon Soup ($8) and Smoked Haddock Kedgeree with Poached Hen Egg ($16).

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Let’s start by talking about the dishes.  Yes, the things we put our food on.  I wanted to squeal out loud.  They are SO pretty.  Tea dishes!  Beautiful china with flowers and patterns and scalloped edges.  My heart wanted to burst from happiness just by looking at them.  Meals come with bread and butter which I happily devoured as I had foodgasms over my cream of chicken with tarragon soup to start.  The soup is so delicious and creamy and not overly salty or seasoned or rich in the least.  It was perfect and so savoury with just the right amount of thickness to it.  With a bright green chive on top, it was both bright and comforting at the same time.  And honestly, along with the bread, it would make an incredible light meal all on its own, it’s THAT good.

And now for the smoked haddock kedgeree with poached hen egg.  In it’s stripped down essence, kedgeree is a rice dish with boiled fish and eggs rooted in Indian-British colonial culture and history, with lots of room for many different interpretations and spins on it.  Could this be any more perfect for me?!  This dish has Deb written all over it because it incorporates all my favourite foods, textures and flavours.

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The Oxley put their signature on it with their mouthwatering, scrumptious version: hot rice bathed in curry sauce and spices, chunks of flaked haddock fish, toasted sliced almonds, bright green peas, and a beautiful and pristine poached egg on top.  There is so much to adore.  The rice is saucy, the almonds give the dish crunch, the smoked haddock fish provided savoury meatiness, the peas give it colour and homeyness (and I just love peas!) and the delicate poached egg just takes the whole thing to another level once you poke it, allowing the sunny yellow yolk to make the rice even more creamy and saucy – if that’s even possible!  It’s gorgeous to look at and even more satisfying to eat.

I’m so happy I finally got to visit The Oxley (I’ve been wanting to go since last summer!).  The staff was so nice to me, allowing me to sit by the window like I wanted and being so attentive and gracious and I felt like I was in another peaceful world sitting in their upstairs dining room looking out at the grey sky and Yorkville streets below.  The food was wonderfully delicious and the experience felt…special, like something you couldn’t have anywhere else.  And that was the real beauty of it.

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*****

The Oxley is located at 121 Yorkville Ave. at the corner of Hazelton Ave. in Yorkville, between Bay Street and Avenue Rd.  They are open 7 days a week serving lunch, dinner and weekend brunch: Monday to Friday 11:30am to 3pm for lunch, 3pm to 5pm Bar Menu, Monday to Saturday 3pm to 11pm for dinner, Sunday 5pm-10pm for dinner, and Saturday & Sunday 10:30am to 3pm for weekend brunch.  You can visit their official website at http://theoxley.com/