When you hear the word "pudding," you likely think of a creamy, milk-based dessert. Over in the British Isles they have different meanings for the same word, some of which aren't quite as pleasant. There's blood pudding, a sausage made with congealed animal blood. Black and white pudding is blood sausage paired with a pork fat sausage. And then there's bread pudding, a sweet dessert cake traditionally made with day-old bread revived with cinnamon, eggs, milk and a liquor-based sauce.
In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I tested the bread pudding at two local Irish pubs to see if either would turn out to be a pot o' gold.
In One Corner: D'Arcy McGee's
2000 E. Rio Salado Pkwy in Tempe
When D'Arcy McGee's opened in 2008 at the Tempe Marketplace, regulars at the nearby Rula Bula on Mill Avenue were threatened. With the two Irish pubs so close, would the original lose business to this shiny new chain? They needn't have worried, as the two restaurants are very different.
D'Arcy's sports the dark wood furniture and Irish ephemera of a typical Americanized Irish bar. The dining area is large and open, with an adjoining front patio overlooking the parking lot. The bar area, which includes a lovely mahogany bar, is partitioned off by pretty stained glass dividers.
The food at D'Arcy's ranges from fried pub grub and salads to British Isles specialties like cottage pie and scotch eggs. Their dessert menu includes chocolate bread pudding. It seemed inconceivable that you could go wrong with that, as...
A. Bread pudding is delicious.
B. Chocolate makes everything taste better.
Therefore, C. This dessert should be out of this world.
Apparently A+B does not equal C at D'Arcy McGee's. The bread pudding arrived warm, accompanied by a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and a pretty dollop of whipped cream topped with a mint leaf. The pudding itself looked more like a cinnamon roll, round-ish with spiral layers. But there was something amiss at the first bite.
The bottom was burnt. Even though the bread had barely scorched, my friend and I could taste the char in every spoonful. Ugh. Too bad. The bread was spongy, more like a cake than actual bread, and way too dry. On a positive note, D'Arcy's achieved the perfect balance of sweetness. And the vanilla ice cream was flavorful, not bland like some grocery store versions.
"Wait...did you say there's chocolate in this?" questioned my dining companion as he dug into my leftovers. "I don't taste any."
Neither did I. Looking back at the pictures, there's clearly a small ooze of chocolate syrup coming from the top of the bread. Maybe it soaked in, but all we tasted was burnt cinnamon bread, vanilla bean (from the ice cream) and the caramel syrup that was drizzled on the plate. Definitely not a happy ending to the meal.
In the Other Corner: Murphy's Law
58 S. San Marcos Place in Chandler
The creepy bear skeleton poised at the front of this pub in Chandler's Historic District clues you in to what type of place this is -- at least when you see he's dressed in Mardi Gras beads or a chef's hat. The spirit of "craic" (the Irish term for a fun, entertaining atmosphere) is alive and well here, as evidenced by the bear and the handwritten "Murphy's Laws" papered all over the walls.
The pub is a narrow strip dominated by a huge dark wood bar and so dimly lit that you have to squint to read a book. Of course, with the flirty female bartender talking up a storm and TV screens blaring everything from local sports to more comical "laws," there's no need to stuff your head in a book here anyway.
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The server practically squealed with delight at my choice of bread pudding, which she remarked was "an amazing dessert." Way to up my expectations. The couple seated in the booth next to me gasped as the dessert arrived at the table in a fajita skillet. This thing was HUGE -- a massive square of three-inch-thick bread topped with vanilla ice cream and drowning in a bubbling river of hot whiskey sauce. Oh, my!
"Now this is what I picture when I think of bread pudding," said the friend who lucked out in getting the copious leftovers. "It's sweet, with lots of cinnamon. And you can taste the whiskey, even though the alcohol's burned off."
The thick bread was moist and spongy, with dominant notes of vanilla and cinnamon. The ice cream was suitably creamy, with a rich vanilla flavor. But it was the sweet whiskey sauce that had that slightly biting undercurrent of alcohol which really set this dish apart. The only negative here is that the sweetness of all three components ends up being a little cloying, and the portion size is just so large that you'll just have to find a few friends to share with.
The Winner: Murphy's Law