The Daily Diary of a Wandering Restaurateur
Off to Ennis

The Route As we say goodbye to delightful Dingle, we also leave our last extended stay on this trip. From here on the most we manage is two nights in any one place as we explore north to Cong, Connemarra and Galway then east to Trim and Dublin before the long flight home. Being more mobile not only means more packing and unpacking but also less quiet time to work on the daily diary. I'll do my best, but I warn you that the updates may start being a bit deferred. You'll get the full story but it may take a little longer. Watch this space.

We're headed north to the town of Ennis in the heart of County Clare and the gateway to an area known as the Burren ... but more on that when we get there. Our route took us back along the Dingle Peninsula, then up around Tralee. The fields of Dingle hinted at the 50 shades of green Ireland is famous for. Elections are coming up and the landscape is strewn with signs. Over here, though, almost all the signs carry photos of the candidate. If you have to look at the damn things, these are easier to take than the uninspired graphics I see in the US.

As we moved north, we ran into more castle-like construction, highlighted by Bunratty Castle about 15 miles south of Ennis. Bunratty is one of two intact castles in the area that hold tours by day and host medieval-themed feasts in the evening with a multi-course meal and entertainment -- oriented, I'm sure, to the tour bus crowd. I admit I find the concept strangely intriguing, but I'm not willing to drop $75 a head for it.

Ennis, on the banks of the River Fergus, is the main town of County Clare and the closest city to Shannon airport, Ireland's other international hub. It is not particularly tourist-dependent, so it gives perhaps a more honest view of Irish life. The downtown area is a warren of narrow lanes -- necessarily one way streets -- making it a bit difficult for the newcomer to navigate. But we did stumble upon Knox's Pub & Bistro, a great hall of a place, where we had some decently-priced pub grub for lunch.

For the next two days we'll be staying at the Ardilaun Guesthouse, a B&B we found online. It's a decent-enough place, but without the effusive personal presence of Pat's place in Kenmare. The rooms are large, the shower small and it is located right on the river, so all in all a pleasant enough spot.

Without kitchen facilities anymore, we'll be seeing a bit more of the local restaurant scene than earlier in the trip. This is not always a bad thing, but it can be prone to the whims of chance. Tonight we worked our way into the maze and found a little Italian restaurant that allegedly had a real Italian chef. Turns out he was only half Italian and I think his Irish half was cooking tonight. The sign outside said restaurant and wine bar but we quickly discovered it was strictly BYO. (The ownership changed a couple of months ago but none of the signs or ads did!) Jason, the greeter/waiter/manager/only guy in the dining room directed me to a wine shop about four blocks away and eventually we had a bottle of middling Chianti to go with what proved to be a middling Italian-like meal.

It was one of those places that was [comparatively] cheap but worth it. The early bird special (appetizer and pizza or pasta) was 12.95 euros (~$18). The same thing in Dingle would have been at least 5 euros more. We went for their take on bruschetta and caprese salad, split a 12" pizza and took a chance on the tiramisu for dessert. I'd describe the food as adequate but uninspired ... and certainly not from an Italian sensibility. (We're one out of three on pizza in Ireland at this point. Perhaps there's an opportunity here!)

In discussion with Jason, he admitted that the food was less than authentic but weakly defended it as being what the locals wanted. Given a virtually empty restaurant, I have to question that rationale. It is one thing to give people what they think they want, but the population is much better-traveled these days and understands the real deal when they get it. At the least, we should be educating people as to what the real deal tastes like rather than pandering to the lowest common denominator. Beware of competing in a race to the bottom. You might just win!

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