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.

Mulligan's kitchen goes to the trouble of making its own desserts, a sign that a restaurant takes its culinary mission seriously. Most of the recipes here rely on one of two ingredients: chocolate or liquor. You won't hear me complaining. The chocolate whiskey cake brings them both together in a rich, intense way. Even better is the blackberry cinnamon bread pudding, bathed in a hard-hitting vanilla sauce. No use swallowing this--just put it directly on your hips.

You don't need Saint Patrick's Day as an excuse to stop by Mulligan's. This friendly pub will do just as well the other 365 days of this year.

Timber Wolf Pub, 740 East Apache, Tempe, 517-9383. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, 11 a.m to 1a.m., seven days a week.

Why did Willie Sutton rob banks? Because, he said, "that's where the money is." Why might Saint Patrick's Day celebrants head to Timber Wolf? Because that's where the beer is.

This pub claims to have the largest beer selection in the state. It could very well be true. I counted more than 100 brews on tap and a couple of hundred models available in bottles. Just about every beer-producing country is represented. Among the more interesting draft options: Abbey De Leffe Blonde from Belgium; Paulaner Hefe-Weizen from Germany; Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic; Watney's Cream Stout from England; Celis Pale Bock from the U.S.; and, appropriately enough, Murphy's Irish Stout from Ireland.

It may take a few beers to get over the setting. The proprietors have gone for the Yukon Territory-trading-post look, a rather incongruous design theme here in the desert Southwest. The interior, constructed from roughhewn logs, looks like something Abe Lincoln could have been born in, if only his birthplace had been built with 5,000 square feet of living space and accessorized with several televisions tuned to sports programming. Skis, sleds and snowshoes hanging from the other walls provide just the right North Pole touches. Seats, meanwhile, are a mix of chairs and cushion-topped beer kegs that the derriere-challenged may want to avoid. Nonstop, pounding rock music ensures that drinking and eating, not conversation, will take up most of your time.

But that's okay, because some of the food is surprisingly palatable, especially the munchies. I expected the battered and deep-fried appetizers to emerge from a 25-pound sack in the freezer, like they do at most places. But that's not what happens here. The onion rings came just the way I like them--big, puffy, right-out-of-the-fryer Bermudas. The freshly battered mozzarella sticks were just as appealing: crunchy, cheesy and greaseless. Hoisting a pint in one hand and a mozzarella stick in the other may seem an odd way to celebrate the Catholic Church's arrival in and the snakes' departure from Ireland--but it is undeniably pleasant.

A couple of main dishes are serviceable enough, no mean achievement when it comes to pub fare. The eight-ounce grilled Angus steak is a good option, a gristle-free piece of beefy animal protein. Chicken-fried steak won't win any nutrition awards, but no one's eating and drinking here under doctor's supervision, anyway. Timber Wolf's chicken-fried model, a tender slice of beef encased in a crunchy batter and smothered with peppery country gravy, goes down as easily as a German beer. The $6.75 tag shouldn't make you change your lifestyle, either.

Grilled pork chops, two hefty center cuts, could have taken top honors. But they were done in by a marinade so salty that diners who insist on polishing them off risk going into sodium arrest. I'd also shy away from the distressing "Log Cabin Meat Loaf," thick, tasteless slabs of ground beef which may have actually once formed part of a log cabin.

You get a choice of sides with the entrees. Pass on the cafeteria-quality fries and rice and stick with the mortarlike mashed potatoes, studded with onions. Unfortunately, the kitchen also sends out a heaping pile of inedible mixed vegetables doused in an inedible sauce. These veggies couldn't tempt a starving vegan.

The antidote? Try Timber Wolf's sole dessert, an apple spice cake topped with nuts and caramel sauce that leaves a sweet impression.

No one is ever going to confuse Timber Wolf with a gourmet restaurant, or call it a "wee bit of Ireland." But if you've got a thirst for beer and a hunger for munchies, this place will work, at prices that won't turn you green.

Mulligan's Pub
and Grill:
Irish Chips
Irish pasta
and shrimp
Pot of Gold
Chocolate whiskey cake

Timber Wolf Pub:
Onion rings
Mozzarella sticks
Log Cabin
Meat Loaf
Angus steak



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