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Published: Friday, 9/17/2004

Restaurant review: Shawn's Irish Tavern ***

Back when I was a weekly customer a long time ago, it was called Shawn's Back Door, a welcoming neighborhood bistro in the shopping center at Key Street and Heatherdowns Boulevard in South Toledo, a stone's throw from the much fancier Matthew's Cuisine. The regulars, from blue-collar workers to judges, were invariably friendly, and the food was good, especially the pitchers of beer and the Coney Island hot dogs.

Well, the beer pours freely and the smell of freshly popped popcorn still permeates the air. But the name has changed: It's now Shawn's Irish Tavern, with a big, square bar dominating attention, an unassuming dining room that appears to have been enlarged, and a summertime patio. Festooning the place are college pennants and more than 20 TVs.

The customers are as friendly as ever, and the owners serve up plenty of hearty pub grub. But boy, I sure miss those chili dogs.

In their absence, the menu offers a generous variety of sports bar appetizers, soups and salads, sandwiches and, from 5 to 11 p.m. daily, dinner entrees that capitalize on Toledoans' love of comfort food. No surprises here, but no serious disappointments either.

Among the dinner choices are open-faced hot roast beef ($7.25) with mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables, and cole slaw; poor man's steak, an eight-ounce salisbury patty with fixings for $7.50; liver and onions for the same price; perch and jumbo shrimp dinners ($12.50 and $10.95 respectively), and the $9.50 grilled chicken breast covered with grilled onions, mushrooms, and melted swiss cheese.

On a recent lunch visit, we gave the pub sandwich menu a good workout, with the $4.95 Danny Boy - hot stacked ham, swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and tartar sauce - stealing the show. Runners-up were a crispy mushroom burger ($5.50); a perch sandwich at $6.95 with fish that was hand-breaded but still too crusty, and cups of thick chili and cream of mushroom soup, both available by the cup or bowl in the $1.95 to $3 range.

At dinner a week later, the crowd was livelier and the food a notch or two above the luncheon offerings, starting with a wonderful stuffed green pepper soup, bobbing with ground beef and bright green peppers

One entre was a 12-ounce ribeye ($13.95) that bills itself as prime meat, but I have my doubts. It was juicy nonetheless, and done to order - a bargain at the price. Grilled pork chops, also a deal at $8.95, brought to the table two boneless center cuts bursting with flavor. Both came with vegetables and potatoes.

Shawn's placemats present a calendar of monthly events, from fish and pizza specials to margarita nights and beer-of-the-month discounts.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com

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