The bar, as dark and dense as the Irish woods, was rocking with laughter as we made our way gingerly to the charming dining room just beyond.
The bar, as dark and dense as the Irish woods, was rocking with laughter as we made our way gingerly to the charming dining room just beyond. As we passed, we crossed shoulders with couples canoodling on the tall stools, casually dressed business people relaxing after a day at the office, and four friends joking around with cool beers in their hands.
Co-managers Madeline Hart and David Coyle, the latter tending bar, greeted us warmly just as a tall, distinguished gentleman kindly stepped aside to let us pass. Madeline, a mainstay at Tavern on the Hill for the past seven years, led us to our seats at a cozy table next to the fireplace. She knew why we had come, just like many of the tavern’s regulars for the past decade and more.
The lure, on this brisk evening in early March, was the Shamrock Supper, the eatery’s longtime St. Patrick’s Week special - two massive cuts of corned beef with a hill of cabbage, and boiled potatoes on the side. All this for $23, with homemade rice pudding for dessert.
Co-owner Kathlyn Egan promises that the Shamrock’s briny brisket will literally “melt in your mouth, and that’s why our guests always come back, year after year.” One taste and I had to agree. Not only that, I never picked up my knife. The tender meat parted easily with a gentle touch of my fork.
The cabbage, a golden yellow mound resembling a mini-Sydney Opera House, didn’t disappoint. Taken together with a forkful of corned beef and a touch of house made mustard, it was a hearty sensation that I plan to enjoy another day. (The portions are über generous.)
Executive chef and co-owner Gerard Strenger then came out to chat. Prodded on the secret to his successful take on this sadly underrated dish, he winked and smiled impishly and danced a verbal jig. “The corned beef we slow-cook for 12 hours. It’s a family secret that’s come down for generations from my great-grandmother, who may have lived in Donegal, to the present. More, I can’t tell you.
“My mum used to make corned beef with stale beer and Holman’s Dry Mustard Powder,” he laughed. “And the cabbage is also slow-cooked, in vinegar and salt. I had some myself for lunch.”
In the earlier days of the now 15-year-old tavern, the chef said they used to cook 600 to 700 pounds of corned beef for the whole month of March. “But it was a bit much. It’s a lot of work,” Strenger said. Now we offer our Shamrock Supper from March 9 to 19. And there’s a slightly smaller version in the afternoon we call the Leprechaun Lunch.” (This one for just $17 per person.)
A modest sort, if quite gregarious, the chef said he started out as a bartender but quietly evolved into a chef. “As [co-owner] Kathlyn likes to say, I’m pretty good at managing food. But I do a bit of everything—from washing dishes to fixing broken faucets to planning the menu,” Strenger said.
Speaking of which, I must mention my wife Eve’s dinner. At the recommendation of charming co-manager Madeline, who looked in on us frequently, Eve ordered the Tavern Wings, done medium, with bleu cheese dressing and a medium BBQ sauce, carrots, and celery. Not given to hyperbole, she said it was the best she’s ever had. Again, Chef Strenger laughed, “I should hope so. We cook our wings four times. After marinating them, we deep-fry, then grill them. They are pretty good.”
But those who come for the Leprechaun Luncheon or the Shamrock Supper shouldn’t be surprised to discover the chef’s “Specials” handiwork. Yep, I’m talking about appetizer specials such as grilled octopus with sesame, seaweed and vegetable salad or bacon wrapped dates. Or entrée specials like the fried shrimp and avocado wrap with spicy sour cream, or the mushroom and ricotta ravioli with wild mushrooms & fried sage.
No doubt about it. Whether it’s St. Paddy’s Week or any other time of the year, the Tavern on the Hill offers a dining experience (and a lively bar) that will have you Cheer-ing for more.
Tavern on the Hill, 8636 Germantown Ave., 215-247-9948; tavernonthehill.biz. Open for indoor dining Wednesday – Sunday, 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. Reservations welcome. Happy Hour: every Wednesday, 4:30 – 6:30 p.m.