The Blarney Stone

A Dorchester bar transfomrs, with mixed results
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  May 7, 2008
BASTA PASTA: Suddenly, tagliatelle Bolognese is on every pub menu in town.

Blarney Stone | 1509 Dorchester Avenue, Dorchester | Open Sun–Thurs, 11 am–10 pm, ad Fri & Sat, 11 am– 11 pm | MC, VI | Full bar | No valet parking; own lot on faulkner street | Street-level access via Faulkner Street at rear | 617.436.8223
What’s the unlikeliest restaurant transformation? The ancient White Castle burger stand in Central Square that turned into a falafel palace? The rough bar near Fort Point Channel that became Lucky’s, a retro youth bar? The old gas station, now dumpling Mecca in Chinatown? Voters will certainly have to consider the Blarney Stone, a bar once run by boxing champions that catered to Dorchester’s Irish-Americans and later to Irish immigrants, now serving quesadillas, risotto, and homemade pasta. (The new owners have taken other neighborhood bar-restaurants, including the Paramount on Beacon Hill and West on Centre in West Roxbury, and transformed them into more upscale venues.)

On to the food. I don’t know what it is with house-made tagliatelle Bolognese ($9/half order; $15/full). You used to not get pasta this good in North End restaurants. Now, all of a sudden, it’s on every pub menu in Boston. Has the dish swept newly affluent Ireland? Did Guinness’s New England distributor run a seminar on Northern Italian food? Anyway, here it is right in Fields Corner, alongside Vietnamese nail salons and dollar stores, and it’s consistently well-made. Only in America! The pasta has that special chew of house-fresh (or factory-fresh, at any rate) pasta, and the meat sauce is correctly lightened, probably with a little veal or pork. Yes, it’s just meat, starch, and tomato sauce, but it’s the slower, better kind.

My favorite item here is something most of the trendy restaurants mess up badly: mini cheeseburgers ($9). Smaller patties are hard to keep juicy; the buns don’t stay in proportion; the whole idea of dollhouse wimpies is odd. But the Blarney Stone has this tricky concept under control. Its platter is made up of four perfect quarter burgers, so it’s really a fine cheeseburger in four easy handfuls, topped with excellent onion rings. There’s also a little Russian dressing and some pickles — who needs those other food groups?

Flatbread pizza (daily specials; ours $9) is not a great concept either, since the whole virtue of pizza is the fresh-baked-bread part. A re-baked Arab bread is not the same, but our toppings of fresh tomato, spinach, and mushrooms were delicious. Fried calamari ($9) is everywhere, too, but this version is above average, with a competent marinara dip. Chicken lettuce wraps ($10), with Thai stir-fried chicken to fill up pieces of Boston lettuce, are decent; add some spicy peanut sauce.

Risotto is a special, but a frequent one. We had one of spring vegetables (asparagus and mushrooms) with diver scallops ($18). The risotto was more al dente than I make it, but authentic in style and not overloaded with cheese. The scallops were seared nicely and very flavorful. The dish was served with a respectable mesclun salad.

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