Top o’ the mornin’ to ye! In early preparation for St. Patrick’s Day this year, we thought we head to an authentic Irish pub. The Celtic Knot Public House has been pouring pints in Evanston since 2005, so we thought we’d check it out. From the wooden tables in the window to the long traditional bar to the red tinged wood accents, wrought iron sconces, and library filled with books and board games at the back, this place feels right. It’s cozy and unpretentious through and through to feel exactly like the town “local.”
Not only does it look the part; it acts the part through the live events they host. They harken back to the traditions of homeland pubs with evenings of live music and evenings dedicated to storytelling. They’ll even tip the hat to their Celtic neighbors with Robert Burns Night, celebrating the Scottish poet, where they offer haggis, Scotch whiskey, Burns’ poetry, and close out the night by singing the classic words he wrote for “Auld Lang Syne.” This is a place that knows how to have a good time.
We began our tour of their menu with Chips, the traditional, thick cut, crispy on the outside, incredibly hot and soft on the inside potato we know as steak fries. They come with a choice of gravy or curry sauce as a side, although there really is no choice in the matter. It has to be the curry sauce. Thinner than the gravy, but so savory with a tangy mild spiciness, this is a perfect version of the pub favorite. Our server also brought a bottle of malt vinegar to the table with our chips, but we’ll get to that later.
Although the Scotch Egg and Mini Sandwich Trio looked like other solid thematic appetizers, we next sampled the Bacon Wrapped Dates, or Devils on Horseback as they’re known across the pond. These are a wonderful mix of sweet and savory with crisp, slightly blackened bacon wrapped around the thick richness of baked dates. A side of blue cheese ranch comes with them taming the sharper aspects and adding a creamy finish to the flavors. As an added bonus, they offer so many more dates than one tends to get when ordering this same dish at any tapas restaurant.
Diving into the entrees, there was a very convenient way to get an overview of their hand at traditional Irish cuisine. The Celtic Collection is a triptych of their Lamb Stew, Fish & Chips, and Corned Beef and Cabbage. The ramekin of Lamb Stew is hearty and warming. The lamb is juicy and tender, soaking in a thick, herbaceous broth amongst large chunks of carrot, potato, and onion and a smattering of peas.
The Fish & Chips make good on the early promise of their Chips appetizer. Though it comes with a side of tartar sauce, this is the time to reach for the bottle of malt vinegar. Sprinkle it liberally over everything. The fish is a thick piece of fried cod as if straight from the local chippy–fresh, flaky fish underneath a layer of crisp, thick batter. This is the good stuff. The best, however, is the Corned Beef and Cabbage. It’s a nice, thick hunk of tender corned beef over a bed of brine-seasoned cabbage leaves. The meat is superb. It comes with a gentle horseradish sauce that has a subtle zest to its creaminess, but it’s even better with a daub of Colman’s Mustard that delivers a sinus-stinging, wasabi-like kick that really elevates the flavor.
For our second entree, we were recommended the Knot Mac and Cheese—thick, homestyle noodles with a blend of parmesan, Irish cheddar, and American cheddar cheeses and whipping cream. The rich cheesy flavor is so soothing and it’s topped with a sprinkle of toasted breadcrumbs for a tantalizing textural crunch.
In order to make it properly Irish, we paired the Mac and Cheese with the optional black and white pudding. The puddings look exactly like fried hash browns and taste like the most potent sausage you’ve ever experienced, which is pretty much what is. The white pudding is combination of pork, fat, and oatmeal and the black pudding adds blood, making it even richer.
The Sticky Toffee Pudding was our picture perfect dessert. The plate is covered in a web of vanilla custard and caramel sauce with a crumbly, very sweet sticky toffee cake sitting as a centerpiece. Each bite is dense and wonderful, with the satisfying texture of cake and the sweet top note of caramel in every bite. This is the perfect winter pairing for a nip of Irish whiskey.
The Celtic Knot Public House is located at 626 Church Street in Evanston, 847-864-1679, celticknotpub.com.