With his ruddy cheeks and earnest demeanor, Kevin O’Grady certainly looks Irish. And a passerby on Stowe’s Mountain Road could be forgiven for thinking his namesake eatery is exclusively Irish, too — a classic pub with plenty of beer and hearty food.
That’s what I expected to find inside the rambling place where the Partridge Inn Seafood Restaurant used to reside. But when O’Grady — a former radio advertising salesman — purchased the place in late fall and began renovations, he talked about not just beer and pub fare but also seafood, saying it would still loom large on the menu. After all, the restaurant shares grounds, and will soon share a building, with Stowe Seafood.
When O’Grady’s opened in late December, its menu was peppered with Irish/English classics such as shepherd’s pie, corned beef and cabbage, and Irish nachos — the requisite oversized portions of gut-sticking fare. One visit, though, was enough to raise my seafood antenna, and, after two visits, I thought of O’Grady’s as a miniature ocean in this mountain burg.
Sure, diners can come here for the warm vibe, the copious beer and the bold flavorings of chef John Howell, who once presided over the Cliff House at Stowe Mountain Resort. (The Maryland-born Howell also cheffed for five years in North Carolina, and the first clue to his Southern provenance arrives with the bread basket: It’s filled with warm cornbread muffins and banana bread.) But there’s much here for fish-heads to love, and at gentle prices, too.
Inside, O’Grady’s has a dual personality. On one side, two huge dining rooms are painted in cool tones, their tables generously spaced. On the other, a blood-red pub features beamed ceilings, two televisions, a long bar, a few high tables and clever, homey touches: The staff keep liquor bottles on an old stairway, an antique copper tub is filled with ice and bottles of beer, and taps are installed in a horizontal beam behind the bar.
It was here that I downed six plump, crisp Thatch Island oysters ($13 for six), served on a bed of salt with a punchy tomato mignonette. They were so fresh, they tasted almost ethereal; the starter promised more good things to come.
A few days later, I tucked into a plate of Ed’s Fish ($9), named for Stowe Seafood owner Ed Flanagan. The slivers of snow-white haddock were first dipped in an Otter Creek Alpine Black IPA beer batter, then deep-fried and piled atop moist, fingerlike fries. Once again, the fish was fresh and light as a feather, almost a meal in itself.
So, too, was another gem from the starters list: a bowl of tender steamed clams ($8), bobbing around in a buttery broth laced with slivers of tomato and herbs.
The parade of seafood continued through the larger plates. A rosy filet of Arctic char ($19) with a paper-thin potato crust was tasty, though somewhat dwarfed in flavor by the powerfully smoky cheddar mashed potatoes served alongside it. A seafood cioppino ($17) yielded hunks of über-fresh salmon, shrimp and clams, with curls of roasted red pepper for sweetness and charred slices of crusty, garlicky Elmore Mountain Bread to mop up the juices.
O’Grady’s offers lovers of landbound fare plenty of dishes, as well, most of them composed with careful attention to flavor. A grilled romaine salad, tossed with artichokes and a tangy grain-mustard dressing spiked with minced anchovies, was rich with charred, earthy notes. A half rack of ribs ($15), falling-from-the-bone tender, was rather sweet, but tempered slightly by the baked beans and creamed spinach sides.
The tap beer selection is local but not wildly original — think Magic Hat #9 and Switchback. But a few creative cocktails, including an Irish Manhattan (made with Irish whiskey), and thoughtful wines round out the menu.
Though I haven’t had those Irish nachos yet, I saw them delivered to other diners a few times. They appeared to be a tangle of potato slivers smothered in melted cheese, dotted with crème fraiche and kissed by chives. And they disappeared quickly. Someday I’ll give them a try, too — if I can wean myself from the fish.
O’Gradys Grill & Bar, 504 Mountain Road, Stowe. Info, 253-8233. ogradysgrill.com