Fed and Blarney

Mulligan's Pub and Grill, 8809 East Mountain View, Scottsdale, 314-5475. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Faith and begorra, lassie, yer as pretty as a milkmaid's shamrock. May the Blarney Stone kiss yeback and the river Shannon turn to whiskey. May me grandmother's four-leaf shillelagh always be green, and her leprechauns come from Killarney.

I haven't the faintest idea what this Irish-sounding gibberish means. But every year around Saint Patrick's Day, folks like me who've never been closer to Ireland than County Maricopa inexplicably start jabbering away with an Irish lilt.

About 1,600 years ago, Saint Patrick converted the Emerald Isle's heathens to Christianity and drove all the snakes into the sea. This week, we celebrate the life and deeds of Eire's patron saint. How? By dyeing bagels green, boiling corned beef and cabbage to the consistency of porridge and chugging vast quantities of alcoholic beverages.

Would Saint Paddy have approved of these rites of spring? Who knows? But I do think he would have enjoyed pondering the question over the food and brew at Mulligan's and Timber Wolf, two of this town's newest pubs.

With its Irish name, Irish dishes, Irish beers on tap (Guinness Stout, Harp Lager) and Gaelic greeting over the entrance ("Cead mile failte"--it means "a hundred-thousand welcomes"), it's only natural to assume that Mulligan's proprietors sprang from the Old Sod. And they did, except the old sod happens to lie in the former Yugoslavia.

No matter. This is America, where even Charles Barkley or Jerry Colangelo could put an "O'" before his last name and claim Irish descent. Anyway, what counts in this country is not where you're from, but where you're going.

And I believe Mulligan's owners will probably be going to the bank. That's because their place serves up cheap and hearty pub grub in congenial surroundings.

They've put in some Irish touches, like playing Gaelic tunes on the music system and tacking up the sheet music to Kate Smith's hit "Johnny Doughboy Found a Rose in Ireland."

But Mulligan's is actually less a tribute to Ireland than it is a shrine to golf. Every wall is hung with portraits of famous golfers and sketches of famous clubhouses. Read King James II's decree forbidding his subjects from playing the game. His Majesty's reasoning? Golf was taking time away from archery, a more useful pastime. James figured that invading armies weren't likely to be deterred by foursomes in plaid pants brandishing five irons.

Despite the sports theme, Mulligan's isn't a sports bar. There are, mercifully, no televisions in the dining area and no tickers giving you the second-period score of a hockey game in Ottawa. Mulligan's is simply a good place to eat and throw back a few brewskis with friends.

The appetizers furnish the proof. You'll need several friends and a couple of pints to work your way through the massive pile of homemade "Irish Chips," thin, crispy potatoes slathered with bacon and melted cheese. And if you don't want to munch deep-fried stuff, there's a terrific smoked-fish plate, lined with trout and salmon, fragrantly accompanied by capers, cheese and onions.

Unless they carry a professionally trained belly like mine, most diners should be able to satisfy their appetites working on just the main dishes. Everything comes with a routine salad or better-than-routine soups. Either the Mulligan's stew, a thick mix of beef and veggies, or the potato-cheese soup, flavored with bacon and dill, gets the meal off to a good start. So does the breadbasket, filled with fresh Irish soda bread and fadge, an addictive biscuit flecked with corn and scallions.

You'll find shamrocks in front of about a dozen dishes on Mulligan's menu, indicating Irish fare. Naturally, these were where we concentrated our efforts.

And this food is generally worth concentrating on. The Pot of Gold features a big bowl of quality shellfish--clams, cockles, two kinds of mussels--sauteed in butter, wine and garlic. Stuffed cabbage rolls are filled with a tasty mix of ground beef, pork and lamb, accompanied by zesty smoked sausage, mixed vegetables and outstanding, thick mashed potatoes. If you're hungry and down to your last $8.95, this is the platter to invest in.

Shepherd's pie brings braised beef simmered with peas and carrots, sealed under a potato-cheese canopy. While the dish is a bit short on meat, there's certainly no lack of overall heft. Tart red cabbage, meanwhile, furnishes an offbeat side. And while I'm a bit skeptical about the Gaelic origins of the Irish pasta and shrimp--it seems about as Irish as lasagna--I have no doubts about its ability to please. You get lots of meaty crustaceans, teamed with sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms in a winey sauce.

And to honor Saint Patrick, you get to wash everything down with a variety of suds. Curious to try something different? Order a black and tan, Bass Ale submerged under a layer of Guinness Stout. Or call for the quirky Blackthorn Hard Cider, a crisp, dry English beverage whose fruity taste masks a potent alcohol punch.

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