Published April 11. 2013 4:00AM
It's one of the all-time great sayings, up there with "Cogito ergo sum" and as rote as the lyrics to "Jingle Bells."
"Gee, restaurant prices always seem higher in a casino."
Liebnitz wrote that, I think.
Or maybe it was me, studying the admittedly tasty but not exactly bountiful filling under the crust of the $14 Guinness Beef Pie I recently consumed at the Landsdowne Irish Pub & Music House in the Mohegan Sun.
Or maybe it was still me, examining the meager supply of otherwise sumptuous corned beef in their $11 corned beef sandwich.
Granted, these prices aren't so exorbitant that your average NBA player or Wall Street cutthroat would quake with fiscal uncertainty, but I was admittedly expecting a bit more in terms of sheer food supply.
Perhaps customers at the Landsdowne are paying as well for atmosphere. Indeed, the pub is a lovely, sprawling layout with three distinct dining areas and two extended bars, in a location familiar to Sun regulars as the former space(s) occupied by Lucky's Pizza and an earlier Irish pub, The Dubliner.
There are deep red walls with subtle stencils of Celtic-esque design. White tin-square wainscoting matches the ceiling and contrasts nicely with the dark wooden bar, carved shelving and supports, and accents. In the small front area, with glass overlooking the casino, there's a curving banquette, covered in distressed, bomber-jacket leather, that runs along the windows.
The middle and back dining rooms are similarly motif'd and much larger, with ample big screen television sport-ness and a roomy stage area for the Irish bands to perform nightly and on Sunday afternoons. Lighting is ambient and amber, much from hanging fixtures, and privacy dividers include red-stained glass with more Celtic designs.
And the food IS pretty damned good. The menu is fairly simple and representative of the Irish cuisine and stereotypes - corned beef and cabbage, bangers and mash, onion and ale soup and lamb shepherd's pie, vegetables like mashy peas and Batchelors baked beans - as well as a few less indigenous entrees and tavern-style appetizers.
Here are some of the dishes we tried:
• Blue Cheese Potato Cakes ($9) - Three fluffy pillows of mashed potatoes mixed with tangy blue cheese and the occasional scallion, all wrapped in a very thin golden crust and drizzled with fresh garlic and scallion cream. They're great fun and somehow manage to be simultaneously light and heavy. It's maybe best to get them to share.
• Pub Sliders with Irish Bacon and Cheese ($11) - Many of us know "Irish bacon" is similar to what we know as Canadian bacon. Atop three plump, moist mini-burgers, and with a dollop of melted cheese, this should be a flavor trifecta. The bacon slices, though, were paper thin and not sufficiently robust to add much. The solution? Remove the bacon, enjoy the slices separately, and just fang the burgers without.
• Chips (aka fries, $4 single order, $6 double) - Giant steak fries served hot, and we selected the curry topping, which was a side sauce of brown curry gravy. It was very good and worked imaginatively with the potatoes, but the temperature of the curry cooled quickly. (Perhaps if it was in a heavier crock or drizzled on the fries it might have stayed warmer?)
• Portabello Burger ($11) - The Veg-Happy Bride took the bartender's suggestion and tried this with goat cheese instead of the blue cheese, and it was a spot-on idea. The meaty mushroom cap was slathered with roasted red peppers, caramelized onions and mesclun - all on a brioche bun. The bread stood up well to the juice from the 'shroom and the goo of the cheese. In fairness to earlier comments about portions, this was a big burger and came with a heap of the steak fries.
• Yes, the corned beef sandwich - Thick-cut white bread in a buttery, Texas toast configuration, with lean, thin-sliced, perfectly brined corned beef - just not near enough meat to counterbalance the bread. I solved the problem by peeling off one layer of toast and eating the sammich in open-faced fashion. Served with house-cooked potato chips.
• Aged Irish Cheddar Mac & Cheese ($15) - Served in a crock, perfectly proportioned mac (small shell pasta) and cheese topped with an "Irish cheddar crust" and served with a large side of garlic broccoli, which makes you feel slightly less guilty for eating such a rich dish. Pricey for mac & cheese, but it's enough for two meals.
• The also-aforementioned Guinness Beef Pie - An astounding, puffy presentation with a sunset-gold crust rising like a mushroom cloud of savory texture. Inside was a peanut butter-colored gravy closer to a heady roux than any Guinness association I'd have. Good, though. Throughout, chunks of potato and carrots, peas, and cubes of tender beef - just in a sort of sporadic ratio that favored potato and not so much meat.
The Landsdowne is a welcome addition to the Mohegan Sun family of dining options. It'd be nice if they'd boost a few of the portions - but it's a fun place to eat and relax.