Story and Photos By Emma Young
They start with perfectly seared high-quality braised-beef and then add fresh carrots, potatoes, onions, thyme, bay leaf and tomato paste, leaving it to slowly simmer until the beef is fall-apart tender, but the true secret to Grafton Street’s popular Guinness Stew, a seasonal addition to their winter menu, is the beer. Dark Guinness, with its earthy coffee flavor and a gentle sweet touch like rich molasses, is poured right in, making its own savory demi-glace with fresh herb hints.
Maybe you’d like to try the chicken though. The oft-requested chicken pot-pie, another seasonal favorite you won’t find on the summer menu, is not your ordinary pastry-covered meat pie. Nice, large hunks of salted chicken are combined with fresh wholesome onions, celery, carrots, garlic and tarragon and simmered until it makes its own chicken stock finished with cream. “I like using cream,” explained Head Chef Daniel Narvaez. “It has a nice, rich sweet taste that highlights the seasonings and the savory flavor. The biggest flavor, though, is the tarragon. It gives the chicken pot-pie a fresh, lemony herb taste.” Grafton Street fills a large bowl with this heaven-scented concoction, tops it with a flaky puff pastry and serves it hot to eager patrons who are more like friends. “People get excited for it,” noted General Manager Dermot Mulvihill. “They’ll ask, ‘when is the pot pie coming?’”
The true secret to Grafton Street’s popular menu options, whether on the upcoming hardier winter menu or the lighter summer fare, is using fresh ingredients in freshly prepared meals. “Our staff is used to making food from scratch. We never look for a short-cut. We do it in-house,” Narvaez said.
You might be tempted to think Grafton Street is an Irish pub and restaurant serving only Irish food and drink. It is easy to see why. They have over 75 Irish whiskeys, scotches and bourbons for you to try. Fish and chips, using beer-battered Chilean cod, are always an available crowd-pleaser. You don’t need to fly to Ireland for that friendly, relaxed Irish pub feel. The dark-paneled bar holds authentic Irish antiques and artifacts from old monasteries, libraries and pubs. Experienced bartenders know how to pull the perfect pint of Guinness after you select from a rotating list of 24 draft beers, about half of which are local and craft. (When available, try the exclusive Grafton Street Stout brewed by local favorite Tin Cannon, using whiskey-soaked cocoa nibs and coffee from local Monument Coffee Roasters.) Mulvihill himself is a direct Irish import; he was born and raised in Kildare.
Ask Mulvihill his current favorite menu item, though, and you know Grafton Street has reached well beyond the Emerald Isle’s green countryside. “My favorite now is the shrimp and chorizo burger,” Mulvihill stated, which is described on the menu as grilled chorizo, garlic shrimp, cool red-pepper ranch, melted Jack cheese and sliced avocado served with hand-cut fries. Chef Narvaez is from Peru, and his wife is Vietnamese. “I like to use some Latin flavor,” Narvaez said. It shows. The restaurant’s multicultural influence is felt throughout the eclectic menu with items such as fiery Tex-Mex rolls, which look like egg rolls but include seasoned ground beef and roasted jalapeño dip, a citrus salmon and spinach salad with fresh berries and feta cheese served with a refreshing cherry tomato and champagne vinaigrette, and smoked chicken and Andouille penne with Dijon mustard cream.
The nightly specials reflect Grafton Street’s diverse menu options, such as Burger Mondays (“build your own from scratch”) starting at $5.95 and Tuesday night wings (with choice of Buffalo, Diablo, Habanero BBQ or Sticky Whiskey sauce) when you decide how many wings your table can handle: 10, 25 or 50. Pizza Wednesdays serves up individual customized brick-oven pizzas starting at $9.95. Thursday night seafood and wine serves up steamed shrimp, snow crab, lobster tails and more, including half-price bottles of wine. The popular and highly-rated Sunday Brunch is served from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and includes a chef’s waffle and omelet station and a make-your-own Bloody Mary station among many others items.
Grafton Street is a rarity in Gainesville for another reason, explained Jonathan Lyons, one of the friendly bartenders you’ll meet. “We’re not corporate. We’re independently owned and operated. It means we can stray from the norm, serve craft and seasonal items, and respond to customer feedback,” Lyons said. Mulvihill would agree: “There’s a benefit to being privately owned. We have the ability to change on the fly. If there are gluten or allergy issues, there’s no question that we can respond immediately to dietary needs.”
One sought-after way Grafton Street has responded to customer needs is offering private dining options. “We have seating of up to 45 in our private dining room,” Mulvihill noted, “and can host parties of up to 90 people.” Holiday parties, corporate gatherings, and wedding rehearsal dinners are all frequently booked at Grafton Street. Each private event features selections from a private dining menu that includes a “Rise and Shine Breakfast” (offering hot applewood smoked bacon and lemon blueberry pancakes), “Take a Break Time” (with treats such as Godiva chocolate brownies), “Celebration Brunch” (including a mimosa/Bellini and champagne toast option), lunch/dinner buffet or plated lunch/ dinner menus (with entrees such as Santa Fe chicken or traditional bangers and mash), “Appetizer Reception” (a popular item is the mini beef wellington), bar service options and a featured dessert display. “We go out of our way to ensure the menu and presentation is festive,” Mulvihill explained. And their seasonal changes are perfect for seasonal gatherings. “In the winter we bring in cinnamon-flavored cocktails, hot-buttered rum, hot toddies and decorate nicely for the holidays. In the summer it is key lime pie, and in the winter it is warm apple pie and peppermint garnishes,” he said.
Another benefit to independent ownership is the sense of amiable intimacy you get when entering Grafton Street. It’s as though you’re with friends when you come in. I speak with Jerry [last name withheld], a regular and Department of Defense contractor who lives in Bristow. “It’s like family here,” Jerry said. “The owner [Justin Holohan] takes time to talk to us. We’re on a first-name basis with the staff. I come to wind down after work and for happy hour. It’s a friendly hometown kind of place.”
What makes Grafton Street so appealing? “It’s combination of the quality of food, the hospitality we offer, and the great experience every time that brings us regular customers. We have upscale food in a casual, relaxed atmosphere. There’s a little hum, a little buzz always going. It’s a comfortable and attractive place,” Mulvihill concluded. And that’s something we can all enjoy.
Grafton Street Pub and Restaurant is located at 7380 Atlas Walk Way in Gainesville. Hours are Monday – Saturday from 11 a.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. “Bar is open ’til late every night.” A well-rounded children’s menu is available. For more information, visit graftonstreetva.com or call 571-261-9367.
Emma Young ([email protected]) is a freelance writer, wife, mother and permanent resident of Montclair, temporarily living in Woodbridge, who has absolutely fallen in love with Grafton Street’s grilled Portobello sandwich (oh, that creamy blue cheese pesto dressing!) and their fresh peach and blueberry crisp. She can testify that Grafton Street bartenders make a lovely Shirley Temple.