Friday, August 29, 2014

Epicurean Adventures: A Right Proper Irish Breakfast

A perfect day for me is easy. All I require to feel like all's right with the world is to kick my own ass in a hard-as-nails workout, before smashing my then-ravenous, totally-earned-it face into a big tableful of carbs and protein. Don't get me wrong; I LOVE me some vegetables. In fact, I rise early in the morning on the weekends for the sheer, cherry-popping pleasure of being the first at the grocery store to dismantle the produce displays after admiring the perfect symmetry of the stacks of crisp, ruffled-leafed lettuce, ogling dirt-crusted violet beets, and inappropriately fondling various types of fruit. However, there is nothing quite as decadent--even with some of the most astounding of dinners--as a post-workout hearty binge of a traditional Irish Full Breakfast. 

Comprised generally of a slice of grilled ham, pork sausage, black pudding, white pudding, a couple of eggs, a grilled tomato, grilled mushrooms, some beans, and toast (or in my case, a rather obscene amount of scones), this is the kind of meal that sticks to your ribs and gets you ready to spend the day plowing a field of potatoes, tending to some spray-painted sheep, or, you know, just dicking around the stunning countryside of the Emerald Isle. It's what I call "doin' it right."

Behold, an Irish breakfast in its classic form:

Allow me to walk you through it. Firstly, pudding is not pudding. Rather, it's a slice of warm (not hot, for some reason) sausage, the black being a type of boudin noir, similar to the blood sausages of France. Sounds rather abhorrent, right? WRONG. It is delicious. It's not as iron-flavored and metallic as the ones I've tasted in French- and German-influenced brasseries, but savory, rich, and slightly sweetened by the rice. 

White pudding is somewhat similar, minus the off-putting blood. It's a bit sweeter, with oats holding the meat together rather than rice. I liked this more, because although I'll try a lot of things and like them, it is challenging to get over the fact that you're eating sausage made of congealed blood when there's a perfectly innocuous-looking piece of beige sausage before you.

The grilled ham is an excellent, fairly lean cut, similar in texture and flavor to Canadian bacon. In fact, it's often called bacon, but I say ham because at times, I have obnoxiously American tendencies. Nothing particular to write home about, other than the fine quality of the pork. Same goes for the standard link of breakfast sausage, which is familiar and homey ... unless you happen to be dining somewhere spectacular, which I did later on, and subsequently had my mind blown by a fat, juicy sausage.

The grilled tomato is just a Good Idea. In lieu of ketchup, the slightly charred innards juice slightly and add a vegetable element to the plate in addition to the carby, lightly smoky mushrooms. This hit of acid from the tomato is refreshing after all the savory meats, and the mushrooms fill up the empty corners of your belly rather nicely, and remind you that vegetables, no matter how humble and brown, should have some kind of place in every meal.

The baked beans are also pretty standard, but a welcome addition nonetheless. Along with the juices of the tomato, it serves to moisten the palate a bit, and the sweetness of the sauce it sits in is a lovely contrast to, again, the salty richness of the many meats. They go delightfully with the farm-fresh eggs, which need no more embellishment nor bastardization than what is provided on the plate. It gives a dessert-like feeling of finishing your meal properly, the soaked beans rolling and pleasantly smashing in your mouth, leaving the ghost of brown sugar on your tongue.

Irish breakfast can also be elevated to THAT. Roasted red pepper relish, massive amounts of Bewley's fine coffee (whose tea I can find here, but why the eff not their superb coffee?!), cucumber and grapefruit water, blueberry scones the size of your fist, a gorgeous pile of perfectly fluffy, moist and buttery scrambled free-range eggs, herb-roasted, fat cherry tomatoes, gratined chive potatoes, fantastic ham/bacon, and a dauntingly fat sausage from which an aromatic, intoxicating scent of white wine seeps out from a thin casing that is simply not up to the challenge of holding this glorious pork hostage.

This is, of course, at Queen of Tarts, a shop I'm absolutely obsessed with that I would go back to Dublin for alone. I have neither the focus nor the time to go into detail about it right now, but I luff it like I've luffed few things in my life before. If heaven were a place on earth and calories didn't count, I'd never leave it. Exhibit A of my rapture: we ate there every day we were in Dublin. Multiple times a day, even. From someone who makes 17-page lists of restaurants that I "have to" try, this is a huge concession of the superiority of this restaurant above all things. Again, may I stress: Every. Damn. Day.

Day Two, in which I had some truly transcendental oatmeal, is provided below as evidence.

Now I've gone on at length before about my nearly equal obsession to the precious, golden, grass-fed butter. On a fresh-baked, biscuity scone (NOT to be confused with American scones, which are hard, triangular rocks of candy-drizzled nonsense), the foodgasm is nearly quite without equal. But you know what else is amazing? Oatmeal. Fuck yes, Irish steel-cut oatmeal; you surely know what you're all about.

Strawberry rhubarb below, with Canadian maple syrup (yes, how very exotic) at Queen of Tarts.
But that was the one thing that I had there that was beaten by another place: Wholesome Fayre. This place changed the way I look at oatmeal porridge forever. 

Granted, I've always loved oatmeal. It's creamy and rich, soft and chewy, sweet and decadent. These words, I like. But Irish steel-cut oats, with their toothsome, al dente texture, so different from their American rolled counterparts, mixed with magic butter and happy-cow cream and milk? My fucking God. The joy is simply indescribable.
Difference illustrated courtesy of a photo from

Wholesome Fayre is a casual cafe, deli, bakery, and all kinds of other things in Killarney dedicated to farm-worthy food, and boy do they deliver. The Full Irish is damned good here, too, and of course, their hot, oven-fresh scones, but their vanilla-scented, apricot jelly-topped, honey-drizzled oatmeal is an ecstatic eye-rolling level of goodness that you'd never expect from such a humble breakfast staple. Warming to the core, there's just such a good feeling when you dig into it and feel it fill your soul with homely happiness on a typically gray Irish day. 

Obviously, I fell in deep love with Ireland, and who'd have ever thunk that it'd be breakfast--not brunch, nor dinner--that'd steal my heart?