A pint of plain is not, as it turns out, your only man at the Workman’s Friend.
“The Workman’s Friend” names both this little Irish pub in Plaza Midwood and a poem by Brian O’Nolan (writing under the slightly more Irish-sounding Flann O’Brien). The poem’s a melancholy one: At the end of the day, it essentially says, the sole thing you can count on to be good is a beer.
But you can count on a number of other things here.
The sausage board, for one. That’s two sizable lengths, fat and juicy and made in-house: We had one curry and one of plain beef and both were hearty, accompanied by little pots of whole-grain mustard and crème fraiche, plus a bit of sauerkraut, pickles and pickled cauliflower.
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Fish and chips for another. Two beautifully fried chunks of battered cod, with pretty good chips. (I’d wish for the curry sauce they’d pour over our chips in County Carlow years ago, but that would just be greedy.)
Servers for a third. Ours were warm, well-schooled in the menu and engaging (with the exception of one sullen runner). We saw a server offer to take a photo for a large party (a long table of boisterous folks by the fireplace, which wasn’t alone in roaring) and another make repeated solicitous visits to a couple with a baby.
A long bar of walnut, with a segmented back bar, greets you at the entrance, running down the left wall and suiting this 80+-year-old building on Central Avenue, as do the sturdy wood tables and chairs, handsome mirrors, plaster-finish walls and Irish signs. Kevin Devin (from Galway), Tommy Timmins (both with stints at Connolly’s among other Charlotte places) and Maynard Goble own the place, and Charles Jeffries is chef.
Dishes like the brisket sliders (gorgeous little burgers with arugula, a little porter cheddar, caramelized onion and a quail egg on one) and lamb frites (half a rack, needing a little more fire, with the fries we call chips when they’re with the cod) show the kitchen’s interest in edging past homey Irish fare. That’s spottily successful; the sliders are terrific, the lamb less so, a chicken dish too small and bland to be a keeper (you’ll either love or hate the accompanying beer-battered asparagus stalks, and I suspect most will love the other side: old-style creamy mac-and-cheese done with Kerrygold cheese).
A salad that puts unseasoned butternut squash among arugula and roasted mushrooms, then tops it with sliced turkey and pumpkin seeds with a beet vinaigrette is as disjointed as it sounds, but the pub salad with pickled beets is a winner, as is a rich tomato basil bisque.
And a seasonal fruit crumble with vanilla bean ice cream – blackberry and blueberry one night – is terrific.
All this doesn’t deny the power of the pint, “when things go wrong and will not come right.” Here, you’ll find more common Irish offerings (Guinness and Harp) but also Smithwick’s and Magner’s cider, plus a handful of other imports and locals all on draft. Another dozen are offered in bottles and cans, plus six or seven more offered seasonally (including Guinness’s Nitro IPA on one visit, though I’d stick with Birdsong’s if I were you).
And when things have really gone wrong, 16 Irish whiskeys, from $7 to $28 (Midleton’s, and yes, it’s one D), await. One only, for sipping, of course, when “your face is pale and wan.”
The Workman’s Friend
A pub that’s warm, with a bit of culinary edge.
FOOD: ☆☆ 1/2
1531 Central Ave.; (980) 224-8234; theworkmansfriend.com.
HITS: Sausages, sliders and warmth.
MISSES: A half chicken that was tiny and overcooked.
HOURS: 3 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday-Sunday.
INSPECTION SCORE: 97 Dec. 14.
☆☆☆☆= excellent; ☆☆☆= good;☆☆= fair;☆= poor