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Review: Hennessy's Irish Pub offers welcome change-up from typical bar food

The bottom layer of the shepherd's pie contains a generous helping of beef in a sauce closer to barbecue than gravy. Eric Daeuber / The Forum1 / 3
Lightly battered cod and crisp fries that stand up to the sprinkling of vinegar are served with a side of veggies in the fish and chips menu item. Eric Daeuber / The Forum2 / 3
Though a tad pricey, the scotch eggs at Hennessy’s Irish Pub offer a different take on bar food. Eric Daeuber / The Forum3 / 3

Hennessy's is an Irish pub in a Disney World sort of way. As far as atmosphere goes, it's a good facsimile. The wood is dark, the brass is shiny, the etched glass and the wainscoting are quaint.

But no one is fooling anyone and everyone is OK with that. So the issue of authenticity is moot when it comes to atmosphere.

On a busy night it's loud and hurried, but so are pubs on the Isles. If you're actually Irish, you won't feel at home as much as you will feel a kind of distant nostalgia. For the rest of us, it's OK.

And the food is passable, too. But this is where some qualification might be in order. A good many new eateries in Fargo might be classified as bar-first businesses. Their atmosphere is most pronounced at the bar. More thought goes into the bar than into the kitchen.

The drinks — in this case the Guinness — make the bar unique. Not the food. It's a business decision, not a question of quality. So considering the food requires one to step back a bit and ask, "What was I expecting?"

On that front, Hennessy delivered well enough. The Scotch eggs ($8.95), something that isn't readily available in our area, hold together well and the mustard sauce demonstrates a good balance of tang and sweet. They are, as the menu says, drink bites. The exterior is darker than the mid-tan scotch eggs are known for and the pure white and golden yellow is marked here and there with spots and rings. But they are a good attempt at a unique bar food. That said, though, at $9 for two eggs, a bit more care might justify the price.

The fish and chips ($12.49) fared slightly better. The cod is lightly battered, keeping it clear of the heart-stopping fat content that heavily battered fish brings to the party. The compromise produces a slightly dryer fish but a better flavor and a more agreeable accompaniment to the chips. The fries are lightly seasoned and crisp, which is no small benefit if you are keen to sprinkle them with vinegar. An already-soft French fry could easily turns to mush in a matter of moments when faced with malt vinegar and these hold up well. The mixed vegetables, not long from the freezer, are best passed over for the much better coleslaw, a detail that holds back an otherwise nice dish.

Keep this in mind when ordering the shepherd's pie ($11.95), and order the coleslaw if you can. Shepherd's pie is less of a dish and more of a concept. The tang and sweet of accompanied sauces is fairly easy to define, but the same can't be said of the bottom half of a shepherd's pie where local flavors prevail and personal taste is much more a part of the equation.

Hennessy's version is packed full of beef (technically making it a cottage pie), something to be appreciated by anyone who orders it, but dressed with something that you have to call yourself. In this case, it's closer to a barbeque sauce than a beef gravy. It would be hard to find this sweet-and-sour combination of flavours anywhere in the British Isles but the interesting thing about a dish like shepherd's pie is that it's a canvas. Purists might prefer a deeper beef gravy, but the Midwest might find this rendition closer to the beloved cookout on the deck.

Service improved during our visit. It was busy and hurried and, perhaps, a little understaffed. By the end of our evening, the server was helpful and considerably less harried. She remembered relatively unusual requests such as to bring the beer with the meal, something that seems difficult for many.

The atmosphere is a prefab Irish ale house and checks most of the boxes. For pub grub with a twist, Hennessy's offers a menu that gives you a break from the burger, which are also available, and lets you forget that you're strip-mall-bound but at a very reasonable price. Best to sit back with a black and tan ($6.50) and enjoy the fantasy.

Hennessy's Irish Pub

Address: 4323 45th St. S., Fargo

Cuisine: Irish and American

Food: 2.5 stars

Service: 3 stars

Ambiance: 3 stars

Dining details

Hours: Monday to Thursday 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 to 2 a.m.

Phone: (701) 566-8770

Reservations accepted: No

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards accepted: Yes

Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at food@daeuber.com.

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