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Brave Heart (and Lungs)

Admiring the Scottish neeps and tatties near Times Square

As we perch on the high-backed bar stools, burly cable-knit sweaters, tam-o'-shanters, and navy blazers with gold embroidered crests stroll by. When the barkeep emerges from behind the bar, no one seems to notice he's wearing a plaid skirt. Welcome to St. Andrews, the city's sole Scottish eatery, named after the world's most famous golf course, where, six centuries ago, a series of rabbit paths through the furze inspired the sport of golf. The woody front room initiates a golf theme that extends to the clubby back room, in which businessmen in booths loosen their ties and make deals, while families of rosy-cheeked tourists spread out at larger tables. Occasionally interrupting the theme are row upon row of single-malt Scotch bottles from a list of 175; some of them are limited editions only temporarily available. If you betray the slightest interest, the waitress—who seems way too young to be a serious Scotch drinker—will launch into an instructional seminar, declaiming the relative merits of sweet Speysides and smoky Campbelltowns, her eyes shining with excitement.

Following the ages-old practice of Celtic publicans, the menu is low-key and eclectic, with Scottish specialties concealed here and there among the burgers, pastas, entrée salads, and seafood, like golf balls hidden in the rough. With the proviso that the cuisine is often bland, a few of the dishes are definitely worth checking out. Most notorious is haggis, a sheep's urinary bladder which, according to tradition, is crammed with minced liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs, thickened with oats. The haggis is submerged in boiling water and cooked to a fare-thee-well, then cooled, sliced like meat loaf, and served with pureed turnips and mashed potatoes, fondly called "neeps and tatties." In cooking-school style, the St. Andrews version ($8.95) has been modernized. A whitish hump of ground meat is squeezed between one plateau of neeps and another of tatties—a Celtic flying saucer. Though the organ meat has been limited to little cubes of liver and kidneys here and there in the ground meat, the dish sinks a long putt anyway, tasting like an adventuresome version of shepherd's pie. "The other organs can't be included because they're illegal here," exclaimed the waitress, only half correct.

Shepherd's pie ($10.95) is available too, presented in a doctrinaire version among such bar staples as fish and chips, bangers and mashed, and chicken pot pie. Stick with the selections that feature the buttery and creamy mashed potatoes, and you won't be disappointed. Avoid the cock-a-leekie soup ($5.50): Despite the appealing name, it turns out to be pallid broth with a few lumps of chicken and a trace of shredded leeks. It would be a shame to miss the chance to put your mitts on real Scottish salmon, among the most respected in the world. There's a nice entrée of Shetland Island salmon ($16.95), but lest you think you're getting wild salmon, note that the first five hits when you Google "Shetland" and "salmon" will be the Shetland Salmon Farmers' Association. The fish is extremely tasty, nonetheless, with a trickle of watercress sauce as green as a fairway after a rain.

Get tartan-faced at the bar.
photo: Shiho Fukada
Get tartan-faced at the bar.

Despite a preference for Scotch and British ale when it comes to drink, St. Andrews's patrons are more likely to be seen eating hamburgers than haggis with neeps and tatties. The burger ($9.95), by the way, gets a solid B from me. And the fries ain't bad either.

 
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