How did we go our entire lives without ever visiting here?
That's what ran through our minds last Saturday when my friend — we'll call her Shannon — and I both made our inaugural visit to delightful Dunedin, a Gulf Coast community that's wonderfully bereft of chain restaurants, tacky signage, traffic jams and view-obstructing condo behemoths. The sidewalks teem with friendly pedestrians. And for every couple cars there's somebody who's opted for a bicycle. Nice.
In the center of downtown Dunedin sits the fabulously old-timey Flanagan's Irish Pub, the ideal pre-St. Patrick's Day celebration spot. (Then again, I prefer an Irish pub pretty much every day of the year.)
Flanagan's small bar, which seats probably less than a dozen, was full when we entered. So we found one of the few remaining unoccupied tables near the tiny, empty stage. The intimate wooden room is painted mostly emerald green and the walls are adorned with the requisite soccer posters and bric-a-brac, like a classic brown whiskey jug looming overhead.
Unfortunately, my Irish whiskey wish could not be granted because of a complicated liquor license issue. So I went with a Guinness. Shannon opted for a half and half (Guinness and Harp). Both 20-ounce pints ran $5 and were served promptly. My Guinness proved tastily fresh, a quality typically only found at Irish pubs like Flanagan's that are constantly running through the stuff — and cleaning the lines.
I scanned the menu and saw standard pub grub like chicken wings, sandwiches and wraps. Not too impressed. But then I spotted the "Auld Old Country Traditions" page and grinned. The waiter, without hesitation, recommended the shepherd's pie ($9.99). Shannon chose the fish 'n' chips ($12.59). We shared an appetizer of two delicious Maryland-style crab cakes ($6.99).
Shepherd's pie is hard to screw up. But my heaping, steaming serving of seasoned ground beef, Guinness gravy, onions, carrots and peas — topped with chunky mashed potatoes and a generous mess of cheddar cheese — rocked. Shannon's piece of fried "Atlantic cod" … not so much. The fish tasted like it had spent way too much time in the freezer.
Another disappointment was my glass of chardonnay. I later learned it was the barely drinkable Barefoot, the only brand Flanagan's carries. (Advice: If you only have permission to peddle beer and wine, step up the wine selection. Even it's just a baby step. For instance, Lindemans and Yellow Tail both cost about the same as Barefoot and taste about a thousand times better.)
Anyway, while I enjoyed my shepherd's pie and struggled to choke down my white wine, we were entertained by the one-man musical stylings of brogue-brandishing singer/guitarist Brendan Nolan. The St. Pete Beach resident (by way of Dublin) had the crowd, which ranged from infants to grandparents, singing and clapping along to Celtic classics like Irish Rover and Whiskey in the Jar. We joined in the revelry.
Flanagan's limited alcohol selection makes it impossible to rival a true Irish pub like, say, the Tampa Bay treasure Four Green Fields. But it's a fine drinking destination all the same. One that immediately makes you feel like you're seated in a room full of friends rather than strangers, especially during the boisterous sing a-longs.
— What's your favorite drinking destination? Contact Barfly columnist Wade Tatangelo at email@example.com.