Myths abound regarding St. Patrick’s Day (clovers vs. shamrocks, St. Pat’s true origin, etc), but perhaps one of the most oft repeated myths surrounds corned beef and cabbage. The feast day of Ireland’s patron saint has been observed on March 17 for hundreds of years, and while the date fell during the fasting season of Lent, on St. Patrick’s Day, the ban against eating meat was lifted. On this day, citizens would celebrate with dancing and indulging in the traditional meal of bacon and cabbage, along with some beer.
Between the 17th and early 19th centuries, beef-corning (beef preserved in large salt particles, or “corns”) was Cork City, Ireland’s biggest export. When Irish immigrants came to New York, they were looking for a cheap alternative to bacon, and their Jewish neighbors introduced them to corned beef, which was inexpensive, readily available and could be kept without spoiling for quite a while.
We’ve come a long way; corned beef and cabbage has risen in ranks to become a popular (some might even go so far as to say trendy) menu item. Some of these Irish restaurants serve it only around St. Patrick’s Day, some occasionally have it as a special, and some don’t even use corned beef but prefer to go the traditional route and prepare it with ham or bacon. Settle in to a plate of this delicious comfort food, and you’ll understand why this dish has survived for centuries.
Moriarty’s Restaurant and Irish Pub
Hours: Daily- 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
For over 30 years, Moriarty’s has been one of Philly’s most beloved Irish pubs and a favorite before and after theater hangout (the Forrest Theater is right next door). Moriarty’s house specialty is the corned beef and cabbage. It’s tender corned beef brisket served with savoy cabbage, new potatoes and carrots and comes with a salad and rolls for $14.99. Moriarty’s is also known for its tangy chicken wings ($9.49), so share a plate with a friend–just make sure to leave room for that corned beef and cabbage.
The Plough and The Stars
123 Chestnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Lunch Hours: Mon to Fri – 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner Hours: Mon to Sat- 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sun- 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Brunch Hours: Sat to Sun – 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
An Irish Pub and a dance club? Yes, and it’s right in Old City at The Plough and The Stars. The menu is a mix of Irish classics and eclectic new flavors (try the Organic Hudson Valley Duck in all its caramelized goodness, $19.75). And while corned beef and cabbage isn’t on the menu every day, it occasionally surfaces as a special; ham and cabbage is available all during March. After you’ve stuffed yourself silly, venture onto the dance floor for some boogying (be warned: it gets crowded late on weekends) or stop in on a more sedate Sunday, when you’ll find traditional Irish music from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
McGillin’s Olde Ale House
1310 Drury St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Hours: Daily – 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Kitchen until 1 a.m.
When McGillin’s first opened its doors in 1860, a good-sized glass of beer cost five cents. Prices have changed, but the warm, friendly feeling you get from walking into McGillin’s is still there. For St. Patrick’s Day, McGillin’s is bringing out some of the big guns of traditional Irish cuisine: bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie and of course, corned beef and cabbage. O’Hara’s Stout, direct from the Emerald Isle itself, is one of the 30 beers on tap. Expect a rollicking good time.
Tir Na Nog Bar and Grill
1600 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Hours: Mon to Fri – 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sat- 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sun 10 a.m. to 1 a.m., Brunch until 3 p.m.
Tir Na Nog will keep purists happy with its traditional fare, like beef and Guinness stew, beer battered fish and chips, and shepherd’s pie (made with lamb, not beef). But adventurous foodies will love the modern offerings like lobster mac and cheese, and cider glazed salmon with butternut squash risotto. Instead of the usual corned beef and cabbage, try the corned beef spring rolls with corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, potato straws and mustard sauce. Not content to just prepare what’s on the menu, the chef has created the 52 Menu, an additional new and exciting menu every week. Tir Na Nog also has fantastic Happy Hour (5 p.m. – 7 p.m.) drink and food specials; watch for the St. Paddy’s Day specials.
611 S. 3rd St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Hours: Mon to Sun – 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Try O’Neal’s corned beef and cabbage with one (or more!) of its many brews, which, along with lots of other tasty bites, is very nicely priced for the holiday. Specials abound in this Queen Village bar that has consistently won in Best Irish Bar competitions. Every day, there are drink specials, food specials, karaoke, quizzo and even a dart league. Should someone ask you to pinch hit for a bartender, O’Neal’s gives lessons on how to pour the perfect Guinness pint, with a contest later in the evening when the best pour-ers can win prizes and O’Neal’s swag.
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Trish Deitemyer is a freelance writer living in Philly. She covers Food & Drink and has been writing since 1986. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.