Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience. We invite you to come along with our writers as they—informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves—have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do.
We demand a certain authenticity from our Irish pubs, even faux American Irish pubs. A proper pint served by bartender with a brogue is required; yellowed posters advocating sympathy for armed resistance, optional. Santa Rosa's new Stout Brothers Pub is a picture-perfect specimen from the kit pub genre. Gently illuminated but not dark, handsomely furnished with Irish-themed accoutrements, all that it lacks, as one wag commented, is a track running through it so that patrons could ride through, Disneyland-style. But insofar as it is a comfy public house that fits nicely in between the loud, dressed-down din of a brewery and the tense chill of a cocktail lounge, so what? It's a welcome alternative in downtown Santa Rosa; here the casual crowd fits right in the middle.
Pub-goers can choose from a good variety of seating possibilities, from the full bar to various tables and nooks and a cozy hideaway upstairs surrounded by gold-flecked wainscoting and balcony railing, under a ceiling stained to simulate decades of diligent smoking.
Stout's key appetizer is a bit of a misnomer. So-called Gaelic chips ($3.75) are what the Irish would term "crisps," or potato chips. Served with whiskey-barbecue dipping sauce, they're a tasty snack, but to say they were oily would be like noting that Guinness is wet. Speaking of which, our pints displayed the disturbing trend toward icy-coldness and were suspiciously speedy. Regardless of fad, Guinness likes a warmer, more restful approach, with two pulls on the tap and less chill in its timbre.
A bowl of potato leek soup ($5.75) was a rich, chunky purée served with rustic soda bead. My dining companion was nonplussed by the large brick of undercooked potato found lurking at the bottom, but enjoyed the fresh, simple Gaelic wedge salad ($6.75), iceberg lettuce sluiced with blue cheese dressing and bacon. The fish and chips ($11.75) were crisp on the outside and fresh and tender on the inside, but the devil was in the mushy layer of batter in the middle, possibly telling of incompletely defrosted frozen fish. The tartar sauce was wanting, and our malted vinegar never showed up.
Service was a bit spotty, although the various servers who circulated by our table were friendly and well-intentioned. The group across from us hadn't seen their server for a good fortnight, while we belatedly received at least one fork and knife to share after requesting setups. The best surprise was the ploughman's lunch sandwich ($8.50). Layered with grilled vegetable slices, mushrooms, caramelized onion and cheese, it's a scrumptious repast that bodes well for the menu's Irish burger, something I've yet to try.
With a few kinks ironed out, this insta-Erin watering hole may deliver on its promising atmosphere. Given our distance from the Emerald Isle, we might as well bring on the frosty pints and the barbecue-dip crisps while putting another Pogues number on the jukebox.
Stout Brothers Irish Pub & Restaurant. Lunch and dinner daily. 527 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707.636.0240.