I woke up snuggled on a soft mattress in my best friend’s apartment in Dublin on St. Paddy’s day. I woke up with just one thought in mind. Well, maybe two… I thought about all the whiskey I would have to drink that day, remembering past St. P. day parades with my friends in South Boston. But mainly I thought about that wonderful combination of starch and fat and protein, the hearty and satisfying plate of warm and salty things that is an Irish breakfast. As I’ve often done on trips with them and with other companions I tugged on the sleeves of my best friend and her boyfriend reminding them that I wanted…no, needed… an Irish breakfast that morning. I repeated it over and over. I inquired where and when. Would places be full? Would they sell out of sausage? “You guys, we actually all need this to soak up the alcohol we will have later.” A true pest, I did not stop until they turned in sync to face me and muttered between their teeth, “You’ll get your damn Irish breakfast Lili. You’ll get it.”
I got it at a place called Green & Baker (formerly known as Cafe Kylemore) located on the second floor of Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre at the top of Grafton Street, where face-painted Dubliners were already roaming wild at noon. Gliding up the escalator I was disappointed for only a moment that we would be eating in the food court of a shopping mall. I remembered my last trip to Ireland six years prior and the sumptuous full Irish breakfast I wolfed down at the stately and elegant Bewley’s on Grafton Street (now closed). Somehow a fast food version just didn’t seem as good. That all changed when I saw the selection, and the kindness and patience with which the lady behind the counter scooped things onto a plate. Everyone in line was local and a regular; not a single tourist in sight.
At Green & Baker the Irish breakfast is available all day through a variety of specials. There are fried and scrambled eggs, pork sausage, bacon rashers, white & black pudding, beans, hash browns, sautéed field mushrooms and fried tomatoes. I ordered the 5 piece breakfast for €7.95 and selected scrambled eggs, baked beans, a tomato, a sausage and a pair of white and black puddings. With the special came two slices of toast with butter and a big mug of coffee, exactly what I needed before the long day ahead. My friend spread some luscious Irish butter over her toast and piled on the soupy, sweet beans. She encouraged me to try and I found it a wonderful and comforting combination of crunchy bread, warm, mushy and sweet beans atop cool, smooth and salty butter. The pork sausage was nice and plump with a skin that snapped pleasantly under my knife. The puddings were both wonderfully crumbly and smooth in texture, greasy for sure but not excessively so. Both tasted the way they should: the puck of blood (my favorite) was mineral and slightly sweet, while liver had a nice clean, savory flavor. The tomato was fine as well, adding hydration and fruity zest to the dish, though I would’ve preferred the thing fresh and cold rather than fried and hot. My friend’s boo added mushrooms to the combo. These were nice and gummy, funky in flavor and not too oily. The fluffy mound of eggs was the only part I didn’t care too much for, but then again I am never really blown away by a scramble even at the most frou-frou of Sunday brunch joints. “They’re made of powder…” my friend lamented. “But you kind of just need to have them on your plate anyway, just in case.”
A full Irish breakfast is for me a quintessential part of any trip to Dublin. Besides the obvious cliche it’s something that folks there actually eat. I didn’t come across too many individuals devouring bowls of corned beef and cabbage or shepherd’s pie, but I did see many elegant restaurants and more accessible fast food eateries that offered Irish breakfast combos. This daily staple has, in fact, adapted to the modern Dubliner’s on-the-go lifestyle with what is called the Irish breakfast roll. This is basically all the traditional ingredients of a full breakfast plate (two eggs any style, beans, Irish bacon, sausage, white & black pudding, hash brown) between two slices of toasted or un-toasted baguette. I got one of these six years ago on my last day in Ireland, ate it too fast on the bus to the airport and felt bloated during my entire flight home. But it wasn’t bad, otherwise.
Green & Baker far surprised my expectations for shopping center food-court fare. Though the food came from a DIY assembly line, plates were of china and silverware of metal instead of plastic. Ingredients were cooked well and my combo was customized, allowing me to pay for only the ingredients I wanted. Guests sat near the windows of Stephen’s Green and spent their time to enjoy their food with a fantastic view of Grafton Street under the centre’s glass dome. This is not fast food; it just happens to be in a mall. And, ironically the experience is way more authentic than a €20 plate at some grungy Irish tavern.