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True Hospitality 

A welcoming atmosphere and creative food makes the Irish Pub worth checking out

Bar food, pub grub, grill goods--call them what you will, but comestibles served in drinking establishments usually fall into two types: bland items prepared without much thought to either quality or service, or well-prepared food made by a creative kitchen that realizes that good food is integral to good times.

The Irish Pub, a small bar and grill located on the northeast side of town, falls into the latter group. There are no pretensions here--just plain-old-fashioned hospitality and better-than-decent offerings ranging from soups and sandwiches to steaks and more.

I grew up in a city on Lake Michigan where Friday nights meant an all-you-can-eat fish fry at any corner tavern that had a stove. When I heard that the Irish Pub had a fish fry, I was intrigued. I knew there wouldn't be lake perch or walleye pike, but it was worth a try.

We found the place packed, and we had to scramble for a table. A wonderful aroma of properly frying fish filled the air. The crowd was noisy and mixed and kept the half-dozen servers and two bartenders moving. We quickly ordered the Irish wings ($6 for a half-order; $9 for a full order); a combo fish and shrimp plate ($7.95) for John; and a special, the crab cakes ($8.95) for me. We also ordered beers: an Irish ale for John ($4.75) and a Corona for me ($3.75). (Neither beverage was part of the happy-hour specials, but plenty of others were.)

The server was very cool: When I asked how many wings came in half-orders and full orders, she informed us that she'd have to check, because as of the day before, they weren't able to get their usual big wings, and the kitchen was serving more of the smaller ones. That's a sure sign of true hospitality: Not only was she willing to check things out, but the kitchen thought to put more small wings on the plate to ensure customers got their money's worth.

How do you describe bar décor without sounding redundant? You don't: A nice, blond wood bar dominates the room, while a faux brick wall, a wrap-around patio and beer signs are part of the mix. There are two "murals" of Ireland, I guess to dress up the place a little.

The big wings--actually drumettes--had come in after all and arrived post-haste, along with a side of blue cheese dressing (as requested) and plenty of celery slices. The wings were large and crispy, and the heat came from a dry rub. I prefer a hot pepper sauce on my wings, so these didn't please my palate, but if you're a wings fan, I'd urge you to try them.

Our take on the entrées was split. The fish (in this case, pollock) and shrimp were properly done--crunchy without grease. The slaw was mild and fresh, and Irish fries were really just standard French fries: pretty good, no matter what they call them.

My crab cakes, though, disappointed. They didn't look right: two unintentionally blackened patties made with dark crab meat that tasted bland. I helped John with his dinner and left part of mine on the plate.

We took our chocolate cream pie ($3.75) to eat at home. It was nothing fancy, but the pie satisfied my sweet tooth.

We also were quite pleased with our lunch. John's County Cork club sandwich ($8.95)--filled with lots of turkey, bacon, Swiss cheese and mayo--was a traditional three-decker sandwich. (Tomatoes are usually served with this sandwich, but they were not on that day due to the tomato ban.) His side of potato salad would make any cook from the Old Sod proud. It tasted like potatoes!

My burger ($8.95)--also minus the tomato--hit the mark. Any burger lover would be pleased. I ordered bacon, cheddar cheese and grilled mushrooms, but diners have a choice of many kinds of cheese, sprouts, salsa, grilled onions, onion rings, cheese sauce, green chile and jalapenos, costing anywhere from 50 cents to $1 each. You can stylize your burger two ways: Dublin style comes with grilled onions, garlic and Worcestershire sauce; and Sonoran style comes with cayenne pepper, a green chili strip and pepperjack cheese. I had the sweet-potato fries for my side and found them slightly sweet and a great change of pace.

On their Web site, irishpubtucson.com, the owners call the atmosphere "upscale but definitely welcoming and casual with a Cheers flavor in the mix." I agree--although upscale is relative, you can't help but feel at home there. As far as the Cheers thing goes ... oh, wait, there actually was a Cliff Clavin-type sounding off at the bar on our lunch visit.

But don't hold that against the place. If you're looking for a place where everybody knows your name, plus some good-old-fashioned food, a visit to the Irish Pub just may be the answer.

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