Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The one day of the year when it’s appropriate to drink green beer and start imbibing at 9 a.m. To learn more about the cuisine from the land of limericks and leprechauns, we called up Irish-American chef Patrick Connolly, of Bobo restaurant in the West Village.
Tell me about your Irish-American childhood.
My family lived in a primarily Irish-American neighborhood in St. Louis, and my mother’s family was mostly German-Dutch and Irish. St. Louis is a primarily Catholic city, so we had the Sisters of Mercy and I was taught by Irish nuns. Every year around St. Patrick’s Day, the girls in school would do Irish dancing and the boys would do McNamara’s Band and we’d perform in nursing homes.
What foods do you cook around St. Patrick’s Day?
Obviously corned beef and cabbage. The more traditional meal is bacon and cabbage, but corned beef is the Americanized version. I was always told that using corned beef was a New York thing because the Irish couldn’t find bacon and they got corned beef from their Jewish neighbors. And then I married a Jewish woman so I asked the rabbi about it, but he told me that wasn’t true. But it’s definitely an American substitution for bacon. And growing up, the nuns made soda bread. And then I worked in a Welsh pub so we had more Welsh food.
One was a Welsh cawl, which is the word for a stew. It’s like beef stew. My theory with Irish festivals is that if the color of the vegetables is in the Irish flag, you just mash it up and throw it in. Carrots, turnips, Brussels sprouts …
Will you do an Irish family meal at Bobo?
Yeah, but ever since I worked at the pub, it hasn’t been appropriate to do a special meal on the menu. But I’ve done a big meal for the staff.
And you make the family meal yourself?
How many people work in the kitchen at Bobo?
Why do you think there aren’t many high-end Irish restaurants in New York
I don’t know. I think it’s slowly growing. Ireland is strong in seafood but that wasn’t traditionally embraced. They have great langoustines and fish and oysters. I’m not entirely sure. But my family never ate seafood. Maybe that was part Midwestern, part Irish. But I think if the cuisine revolved around seafood it would be good.
What’s your least favorite Irish dish?
Soda bread isn’t objectively a bread you’d eat and be like, “Wow, that’s beautifully executed,” but it has a lot of tradition and is a broth soaking bread. But it’s not beautiful like brioche.
Do you have a preferred Irish pub to knock back the beers?
Well, one of the Connolly’s, my namesake. I’ll go with my dad, who is a retired policeman.
In the vein of Shamrock Shakes, Midori sours, or green beer, what’s the best green beverage to drink?
I’d have to go with Swiss chard juice. With ginger and garlic when you’re sick.
Check back in tomorrow, when Patrick tells us more about his favorite spring ingredients to cook with.