The place is packed, even early on a Friday. One huge table holds family members from three generations and continues to expand as latecomers join the party. A young couple enjoys dinner at a corner table, and a father is out solo with his kids at another. A pickup truck pulls up outside our window, and eight young men pile out and fill another long table. Couples and families, young and old, all seem to love Loughran's Pub in Salisbury Mills.
We're at one of the cozy wooden booths that border the room. The tables are simply set and marked by a map of Ireland with family names listed by county. The walls are plainly decorated with prints, and that's about it. The noise level is substantial but not overwhelming, the sound of people having fun. This room is about function over form. Uncomplicated, neat and casual, it is what it is: an Irish pub.
The menu here is huge and is filled with clever anecdotes and witty blurbs. There is a range of appetizers, sandwiches, burgers and a whole litany of entrees, mainly meat and fish. There's also a short list of evening specials held in a frame on the table. The restaurant is known for its Prime Rib, but more about that later.
We start with two offerings from the menu – Incredible Seafood Cakes ($6.95) and New Zealand Green Mussels ($6.95). The seafood cakes are made up of shrimp, crabmeat and scallops and are swimming in a light lobster cream sauce. The cakes themselves are very good, full of shellfish without much breading. As a result, they're tender and fall apart easily. The sauce is also fine, though there is only a hint of lobster flavor. An enjoyable starter, it just doesn't reach its true flavor potential.
The mussels are not as successful. They're black, not green-lipped, and are overcooked and a bit tough. A scampi version of the dish is also available, but we sample the marinara sauce. It's bland, under-seasoned and lukewarm. The kitchen seems tentative with seasonings in many of the dishes we tried.
Salads come with entrees, and the list of 13 available dressings is as long as some other restaurants' entire menus. The salads are run-of-the-mill – iceberg lettuce, cucumber, mushroom and cherry tomato. The two dressing we chose, creamy Italian and honey mustard, were both pretty good.
Entrees are uniformly huge. We don't order it, but a plate of Prime Rib that passes by our table is eye-catching in that it is obscenely enormous. It looks large enough to satisfy a grizzly bear.
Our portions aren't exactly dainty, either. My guest tries the New York Strip Steak With Shrimp Scampi ($17.95) from the list of specials. The steak is tender, moist and perfectly cooked, a virtuous piece of sirloin. The three hefty shrimp alongside are excellent and benefit from a potent scampi sauce. The steak is served with a small mountain of homemade mashed potatoes and fresh asparagus. Both are fine, but suffer from the a lack of seasoning.
I try another dish from the selection of specials. St. Louis Barbecued Ribs ($18.95) is the largest portion of ribs I've ever been served. The rack barely fits on the long oval platter. The ribs are a fine example of a classic dish, meaty, tender and full-flavored. French fries here come in three different varieties. We choose sweet potato, and they are crisp and light.
We're already taking most of our entrees home with us, but we can't resist trying Pumpkin Cheesecake ($4.95). Pumpkin is one of the ideal cheesecake flavorings and this is good, but a bit tame; too much cheese, not enough pumpkin.
There's no wine list here; the waitress offers a couple of varieties of wine by the bottle. We try the Century Cellars Cabernet form California ($20), a light, mild wine that's fine with our entrees.
Dinner comes to a very reasonable $75.75 before tax and tip, and we leave with at least two more meals for home. Service here is provided by a young woman who is one of the happiest and friendliest waitresses I've ever encountered. Her attitude perfectly encompasses Loughran's signature line, "Hudson Valley's Happiest Irish Pub."
The Loughrans, the owners here, have a lot to be proud of. Loughran's Irish Pub is a warm, friendly and generous place that adroitly epitomizes what a small-town restaurant should be. Everyone here, whether a regular customer or first-time visitor, is greeted and cared for like an old friend. The food is fine and served in gargantuan portions, decor is simple and functional and the service staff always seems to be smiling. If you're hungry and like a lively atmosphere, friendly service and fair prices, Loughran's Pub is the place for you.
Restaurant critic Bill Guilfoyle has more than 25 years experience in the restaurant industry as a sommelier, manager, and chef/owner. He is an associate professor at a local college. He welcomes readers' comments; e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Dish rating (out of 5 possible)