Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Going Green in Walpole, Mass., at Three Downtown Irish Pubs

If you can't get to Ireland any time soon,  try downtown Walpole, Mass.

No, you won't find any low lying mountains, lush vegetation, rolling green pastures or sea cliffs in this small, often quaint southwest Boston suburb, but three authentic Irish pubs within a few hundred yards of each other will surely conjure up visions of the Emerald Isle.

Three pleasant native Irish gentlemen with brogues of varying degree own Finnegan's Wake, The Raven's Nest and Napper Tandy's Walpole. It's impossible to compare one Irish pub with another, as each has its own special personality, but, ultimately, they are all superb pub destinations.  Walpole, with nearly 60 percent of its population of Irish descent, has more than a few people that know Ireland well, and tell me that Finnegan's, The Raven's Nest and Napper Tandy's would all fit in quite well if located in Ireland.

Finnegan's Wake, Walpole, Mass. (photo by Eric)
Finnegan's Wake is located in the basement of an old former foundry building on a hard-to-find side street. Cozy doesn't even begin to describe the bar and dining areas as the lower level setting, ambient dim lighting and a casual, mellow vibe makes Finnegan's seem like one's own private discovery. It's a great place to watch the game, or enjoy a quiet conversation farther away from the bar. Owner Tom Kirwan, who used to own Kirwan's Kitchen breakfast restaurant on Main St., took over the former Rebel bar several years ago, and put his own stamp on the place with a pub straight out of Ireland. He works a lot of hours, but always remains kind and sincere -- and often personally making sure the customer is having a good experience. He also gives so much back to the community. Kristen Smith is a business partner and the long-time chef, and really has a firm grasp of mastering every dish available to customers. Together, Tom and Kristen and a generally well chosen staff (especially the young man also named Tom who works there) help make Finnegan's such a special place.

The look of Finnegan's Wake is rather understated -- certainly not one of those over-the-top Irish pubs that are more cartoon-like than authentic. Finnegan's has lots of character, a few characters at the bar, and an overall demeanor that is family-friendly.   There's more of an accent on Irish fare here including fabulous, true-to-tradition shepherd's pie, bangers and mash, Gunness Beef Stew (unbelievably good!) and toasties. The roast turkey dinner, steak tips and fish and chips are, also, recommended, too. The beer selection is great, the pizza surprisingly good, and there are enough televisions to comfortably watch the game. What a hidden gem! Finnegans Wake is located at 7 Glenwood Ave., in Walpole MA. Tel. (508) 668-1189

The Raven's Nest. Photo Credit: The Raven's Nest
Mark McAuliffe and his wife Maura took the former Paddock and Barleycorn restaurants -- or perhaps dives would be a better word -- and transformed the place into a design that would even make Restaurant Impossible host Robert Irvine proud. Mark had each brick on one wall handpainted, and created an incredibly, picture-perfect attactive bar and dining room that looks like something out of a movie with large windows that open up in the summer and views of the beautiful Walpole town common. Mark has told me, with the utmost pride, more than a few times that The Raven's Nest offers the "coziness" and "warmth" of traditional Irish pubs in his native land. Mark should know, being from County Cork and as a veteran of the restaurant scene as he also owns The Mad Raven in Waltham, Mass. He and Maura also own The Coffee Perch, a few doors down -- really a fabulous little coffee shop. I love the casual, friendly atmosphere at The Ravens' Nest, and can't say enough about the excellent contemporary cuisine and pub fare like pistachio chicken, apple goat cheese salmon, beef and bacon chili, mac and cheese, steak tips with bourbon marinade, grilled pizza, mac and cheese, fresh chicken pesto sandwich, roasted wings, and mouthwatering burgers. Have no fear, though, if you think The Raven's Nest doesn't have enough Irish fare: the flavorful Shepherd's pie and chicken curry dinner confirm the owner's culinary roots. Add plenty of large TV screens to see the game, 15 different draft beers, an extensive wine list, many signature cocktails, live music on weekends, and an outdoor patio for those laid back summer nights, and The Raven's Nest seems like the prototype for a classic pub. This brings up the following question: why put up with the hassle of driving into Boston for just a meal when you have a place in the suburbs that is as good, if not better, than some of the higher profile, more expensive urban spots -- and with plenty of parking spaces in the downtown district? The Raven's Nest is located at 998 Main St., in Walpole MA. Tel. (508) 734-9377

Napper Tandy's Walpole. (photo by Eric)
Like Kirwan and McAullife, Napper Tandy's Walpole owner John Jacob is from Ireland -- Kildare to be exact. He is an extremely hard worker and a personable sort that enjoys a good conversation and has an ambitious nature that makes him a well respected local restauranteur. His wife, Niamh, is a co-owner, thus making Napper's Walpole a true family-run business.

In the past several years, John has opened Napper Tandy's in Norwood and Roslindale, and Eugene O'Neill's in Jamaica Plain. The Walpole location is the newest and my personal favorite. There's a strong focus on the food and the atmosphere is so much fun: 10,000 square feet that includes a charming pub with oak bar and high top tables, a large dining room/lounge with a beautiful mahogany bar, and a downstairs pool hall with nine pool tables, four dart boards, a jukebox and full bar. The food quality is almost always outstanding including some one of the best burgers I have ever tasted, sirloin Shepherd's pie, tenderloin steak tips, fish and chips, edamame stir fry and baked Haddock Nantucket with herb breadcrumbs and New England clam chowder served with rice and sauteed broccoli. Napper's also offers some excellent pizzas, salads with fresh greens and an impressive appetizers menu including coconut curried mussels, fried calamari, fried onion petals, wings, and fried pickles. The drinks selection is outstanding with all the usual suspects, plus a great selection of craft beers including several IPAs on tap.

Napper Tandy's Walpole is certainly large in size, but that doesn't take anything away from the intimate, cozy charm of the restaurant. The upstairs bars and dining areas truly have a quaint and relaxed yet vibrant feeling and the historic cottage exterior adds further layers of personality. Napper's Walpole also offers a patio for outdoor seating during the summer and, at this writing, free pool on Monday nights, paint and sip bar nights on select Tuesdays, and trivia night on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Napper Tandy's Walpole is located at 1065 Main St., Walpole MA. Tel. 508-668-1191

So, which Walpole pub would I recommend? The answer is "All of the above." It's almost unheard of to have three pubs with an Irish feel so close to each other in such a small town, but their presence not only helps make downtown Walpole a nice destination, but gives locals some very appealing dining options.

Related articles: 
O'Connors Restaurant and Bar, Worcester, Mass.
Best Irish pubs from Boston to Worcester
Google Virtual Tours of Irish pubs in New England
Visiting Walpole, Mass.

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