The Daily Diary of a Wandering Restaurateur
Damp, Damp Dingle

The Route Rain. It was threatening all day yesterday and today it got down to business. Fortunately we were in another apartment, at least giving us the option of whether or not we went out to do anything. Had we been in a B&B, I suspect we would have been forced to choose between sitting around on the bed or going out for a drive. So it was a bit of a down day, but Margene is always happy to have reading time and I appreciated the chance to get up to date on my delinquent trip reports. We did manage to get out for lunch, dodge a few raindrops to make an exploratory loop around town and even venture out again in the evening for a light bite and some entertainment.

Our apartment is located right on Dingle's main street, up the hill on the right. The building (with the stone facing) is owned by Steve White, an architect, who remodeled the top two floors into rental apartments. We are in the top unit. While the windows onto the street are smaller, the skylights bathe the living room in light. The flat is compact but well-equipped with the attention to small details that reflect the consciously thought-out design I expect from an architect. Nicely done, Steve.

The reviews we read said that James Ashe was a good place for lunch so we thought we'd give it a try. I would call it an adequate eatery, but there were no WOWs here. It had a good pubby feel to it, but there was a faux fire in the fireplace which, when coupled with a rather basic menu, should have been an omen. Margene's penne pesto was bland. My burger tasted a bit like meatloaf; like something had been added to the "pure Irish beef." The bun was cold, slightly stale and too large for the burger. All in all, not a spot we'd rush back to.

We decided to pass on dessert and coffee at Ashe, figuring we could find a more interesting purveyor elsewhere in town ... and we did! The Garden Cafe was serious about their coffees and their baked goods. Margene seems to be in a latte-a-day mode and this was the first place that provided a spoon long enough to allow her to stir the glass without getting her fingers in the drink. Everyone else has just used cup-sized spoons. The apple rhubarb pie was a nice change of pace as well.

The heavy morning rain had deteriorated into scattered showers by the time we finished lunch and since we were already halfway down the hill, we thought it would make sense just to keep going and get to know the town a little better. Dingle really isn't a very big place so exploring it doesn't take that long, but it was nice to have a sense of where things are, if only for a few more days. That's how we stumbled upon the Garden Cafe and the pizzeria we later went to for dinner.

The Irish towns are pretty colorful but I understand that wasn't always the case. Not that long ago they were all uniformly brown and gray. In the late 50s, the Irish Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government organized an annual competition to honor the tidiest and most attractive cities, towns and villages in Ireland. SuperValu Supermarkets signed on as a corporate sponsor and the project, called TidyTowns, is alive and well today ... and responsible for the profusion of color in the country. Of the towns we have or will visit on this trip, Kinsale, Kenmare, Ennis and Trim are all officialy designated as TidyTowns. Perhaps this idea is something you could help get started in your community.

For the first time on this trip we actually ate out twice in the same day! We have been missing a good pizza on the trip and discovered the Blue Zone, known for pizza, jazz and its wine bar -- three of my favorite things! The owner, Patrick Juillet, is a gourmet chef who brings a bit of French attitude to Dingle and applies his cooking genius to pizzas. Gotta see what that's about, right?

The place reminded me of a 60s hippy dive in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury. Patrick definitely didn't invest a lot in interior cosmetics ... but did put some bucks into a wood-fired oven so the pies are on the table within minutes of ordering, piping hot and with that slightly charred crust I love. Not being all that hungry (remember our one meal a day routine), we split a 12" pizza. It was half Italian ham, olives, roasted mushrooms, garlic and Mozzarella for Margene, half braised pork loin, Guiness mustard and Mozzarella for me. I picked up a taste for Nero d'Avola when we were in Sicily over the holidays and I was pleased to see they had it by the glass, so all was right with the world.

When we were in McCarthy's Bar on Friday night, we saw flyers announcing that Maria Doyle Kennedy would be performing at the bar on Saturday. In addition to being an accomplished singer and musician, she is also a well-known actress with a string of movie and TV roles to her credit including three seasons as Queen Catherine of Aragon on the BBC series The Tudors and appearances on Downton Abbey. She and her husband Kieran turned McCarthy's little performance space into an intimate collaboration between artist and audience that went until almost midnight. We hardly noticed how the time had flown. We shared a couch along the back wall with Gordon, a Dubliner who retired to Dingle a few years ago and now is one of the myriad entertainers who make the pub scene in town so vibrant. I'll talk more about that before we head north on Tuesday. We called it a night and walked the half block to the apartment feeling good.

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