Finn McCool's Irish Pub
3701 Banks St., 486-9080; www.finnmccools.com
As the World Cup has rolled along, Finn McCool's Irish Pub has become a local clubhouse for international sport, as fans fill the place with their national colors and native tongues. All the while, the Mid-City pub has been catering to the polyglot crowd with an exhibition of international eats.
"We committed to show every game of the World Cup, and the food part of it really started because those first morning games came on so early," says Pauline Patterson, a Belfast native who owns Finn McCool's with her husband Stephen and their partner Stevie Collins. "We didn't want people starting to drink without food in their stomachs."
Their answer was to serve the Belfast bap, a sandwich packed with lean Irish bacon, narrow links of light-colored Irish sausage, fried eggs, cheddar and white and black pudding, two types of traditional Irish pork sausage. White pudding is a bit like Louisiana boudin, with oatmeal in place of rice, and black pudding gets its robust flavor and tarry color from pork blood mixed with cinnamon and tiny bits of gristle, lending extra texture.
These baps are essentially hand-held versions of the Ulster fry, a classic excess of traditional Irish cookery that calls for all items to be fried in lard and piled on the plate. But Patterson lightens it by grilling the meats, and vegetarians can get Bombay baps with egg, cheese and Patterson's chunky vegetable curry. During World Cup games, people all over the pub clutch baps in one hand while they pump fists, wave miniature flags or hoist pints or Bloody Marys with the other.
The World Cup also has turned the kitchen into a temporary fish and chip shop, and at lunchtime, soccer supporters tuck into paper-wrapped bundles of the British Isles' most cathartic comfort food. Patterson uses whiting encased by puffy beer batter that fries to dark, almost caramelized edges. Chips are alternately doused with vinegar, meaty gravy or vegetable curry.
"The chips with sauce is what you'd find back home in Ireland at Chinese restaurants open late, the places catering to people leaving the pubs," Stephen says.
On some game days, the kitchen serves Irish sausage rolls or Scotch eggs, which are hard-boiled, wrapped in sausage and fried for a treatment any Cajun would respect. And every day during competition, Pauline Patterson devises a lunch special based on traditions from one nation represented on that afternoon's schedule.
"I try to guess which nation will have the most followers turning up and that's the nation we honor with our special," she says.
When Honduras played, the special was picadillo, a peppery beef dish with beans and rice. The Italian team inspired pasta bolognese and England's appearance against Algeria led to a roast beef dinner with Yorkshire puddings, those eggy popovers so essential to a traditional British roast. African beef stew, German sausages and American sloppy Joes have all made appearances.
With the U.S. team eliminated and many American fans unaccustomed to following international soccer, there is a simple way to pick which team to root for: Go with the most delicious national cuisine.