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McKinney's Irish Pub

Bangers and mash (left), Jameson on the rocks, Irish stew and a Reuben panini are among the offerings at McKinney's Irish Pub.

GWYNETH ROBERTS/Lincoln Journal Star

In 2005, I vacationed with a good friend of Irish descent to Ireland, where I discovered I liked Murphy’s Irish Stout better than Guinness.

Murphy’s is sweeter and lighter than Guinness. And it's really hard to find in Lincoln.

Fortunately (for me), Nathan Stewart, co-owner of the new McKinney’s Irish Pub in the Haymarket, prefers Murphy’s to Guinness, too.

That’s why he put it on tap. Stewart, who is third-generation Irish -- his family immigrated to the U.S. from Belfast in the 1920s -- believes McKinney’s is the only bar to have Murphy’s Irish Stout AND Murphy’s Irish Red on tap. They are among the 20 tap beers available, seven of which are Irish brews.

“I don’t know why I like Murphy’s better,” Stewart said. “It has a smoother taste to me.”

McKinney’s also, as you probably guessed, has its fair share of Irish whiskeys, too, with 35 available, including vintage, aged Jameson’s, which will cost you $30 for a shot.

Stewart and partner Joel Schossow opened McKinney’s, which is sandwiched between Rodizio Grill and the Burkholder Project, on Nov. 9. Its storefront, which resembles an actual Irish bar, was designed by Lincoln architect Mike Rindone.

Stewart and Schossow once worked together at the downtown Holiday Inn, where Schossow was the general manager and Stewart the beverage manager. The duo, according to Stewart, had been looking to open an Irish-themed pub somewhere in Lincoln for three or four years.

“We must have visited 20 different locations,” he said.

They settled on the Haymarket because of its proximity to the football stadium (Saturday is the spring game), the new arena and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln City Campus.

“I always liked going to the Dubliner in Omaha,” he said of the longtime, popular Old Market bar. “We wanted (our pub) to stand out in an area like the Dubliner does.”

Although they opened last fall, McKinney’s didn’t start serving food until Feb. 28, when the kitchen was finished. The pub just began a lunch service on March 20. The menu, designed by kitchen manager Dane Bass and Stewart, is small (for now), with a mix of paninis, salads and Irish-themed entrees, including shepherd’s pie and Irish stew.

Bass came to McKinney’s from Dempsey’s Burger Pub. He also has worked at bread&cup.

“We’ve exceeded expectations,” Stewart said of the first five months. “Being an Irish pub, we weren’t sure how it would go. The feedback has been good about the beers we have on tap.”

Food

The menu has a handful of Irish-themed items, but the draws are the paninis, which are served grilled or cold on sourdough, wheat or marble rye.

The Reuben and pub paninis ($8.99 each) feature real, oven-baked corned beef, not the deli-sliced, microwaved kind. I ordered the pub, which included stout-braised onions (yum!), a horseradish-based pub mustard and Swiss cheese on grilled marble rye. The menu has eight panini choices, and each is served with choice of cottage cheese, apples, spiral fries or potato chips.

My co-worker Megan ordered baked fish and chips ($11.99) off the small entree menu. Fish and chips are an Irish staple, too. They join corned beef, turkey and stuffing, shepherd's pie, and bangers and mash as entree items. And, yes, the owners know bangers are an English entree, but the dish, which features a house-made pork sausage, is selling well.

Because the fish and chips are baked, the breading isn't as crunchy as you may like. The same goes for the baked spiral fries. They are a novel menu addition, but Megan's and mine were a tad undercooked. The ends of the fries were fine, but the thick middles were raw potato. They needed another two or three minutes in the oven.

Other menu highlights include the Irish stew ($5.99 bowl, $3.49 cup) made with lamb and Guinness, deviled eggs ($6.49) and, for dessert, a Guinness float with cinnamon ice cream ($6.49) and Bailey's cheesecake ($5.99). Grade: B

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Atmosphere

Stewart said he and Schossow learned a few things from Brazen Head, the Irish-themed restaurant/bar that didn’t last long in the Haymarket. Part of Brazen Head’s problem was its interior was TOO much like an Irish pub, with booths enclosed by high walls. People like to see and be seen.

McKinney’s is wide open, with seating areas at the entrance and upstairs. The path along the bar, which leads to the kitchen and restrooms, is for standing, with long, narrow bar tables for holding drinks. There are TVs, but the bar isn’t overwhelmed by them.

The pub has seating for 74, but capacity is more than 100. It could become difficult to move around -- and reach the restrooms -- if it ever gets that crowded. Coming soon is outdoor seating. Grade: B

Service

Not a lot of folks know McKinney’s has food yet, so the kitchen and servers haven’t been tested yet. That changes this weekend with the spring game happening.

Megan and I visited for an early-week lunch, when it was slow, so our service was stellar. The food arrived between five and 10 minutes. And Stewart refilled Megan’s empty water glass twice without being asked. Grade: A

Vegetarian and gluten-free friendly

Stewart was quick to tout McKinney’s gluten-free fare, which includes the corned beef ($11.99), served with steamed cabbage, potatoes and carrots; and potato, leek, and clam chowder soups ($5.99 bowl, $3.49 cup).

Vegetarian options include veggie (mushrooms, spinach, tomato, red onion, artichoke hearts and chevre) and deluxe grilled cheese paninis ($7.99 each), the house salad ($5.99), the potato leek soup and two appetizers -- spinach and artichoke dip ($6.49) and potato chips with a homemade Guinness dip ($6.49). Grade: C+

Reach Jeff Korbelik at 402-473-7213 or jkorbelik@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSjeffkorbelik.

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Features editor

Jeff Korbelik is the features editor and covers dining, performing arts, TV and local media. Follow him at @LJSjeffkorbelik.

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