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* 1/2
Out of a possible five

O’Reilly’s pub highly anticipated

As soon as news that The Harrison – the new building that houses apartments and other businesses attached to Parkview Field – was being built, the speculation began as to what great new restaurant might call it home.

I heard them all from P.F. Chang’s to Scotty’s Brewhouse, but, in the end, it was Indianapolis’ O’Reilly’s Irish Bar & Restaurant that opened its second store there.

And now it seems as if everyone will still be wondering what great new restaurant will call The Harrison home because O’Reilly’s failed to deliver.

There is no question that the location is fantastic and, although it doesn’t have a rustic Irish pub feel at all, O’Reilly’s looks the part of a great sports bar.

It has emerald green walls and Irish beer and whiskey signs all around. With its high, exposed, black ceiling it has a bit of a vacant feel, but there are plenty of TVs, the furnishings are new and modern, the wooden floor is attractive and the patio overlooking the ballpark is great. You can see about two-thirds of the diamond – left field and much of center is blocked – but it is a prime spot for people watching.

And there were a few pretty nice finds on the menu, which tried to be Irish but didn’t try hard enough. For example, this Irish bar with a nice selection of Irish beers made its beer-battered fish and chips with Corona.

I even had a hard time ordering an Irish favorite, the black and tan. O’Reilly’s version used Guinness Stout – of course – on top of half a glass of Smithwick’s Red Ale, which is the traditional Irish version.

The one I was served had just a faint layer of red on the bottom inch of the tall glass. When my server saw me holding it up to the light with a puzzled look, he said he and the bartender thought it didn’t look right. But they served it to me anyway.

The Corona-battered fish was actually quite good. The breading was light and crisp, and the fish was flaky, moist and flavorful. The batter didn’t have much beer essence, but it was still a good version. The french fries were perfect – double fried and really crisp – as were the sweet potato fries I tried in the Irish Appetizer, which featured regular and sweet potato fries with spicy ketchup and ranch for dipping. If I was just there to have a few cold ones and watch the game, this appetizer would have to be on the table.

I also really liked O’Reilly’s Cheese Steak sandwich. It was stuffed with stringy corned beef instead of steak, shredded cabbage instead of peppers, onions and provolone cheese.

The stuffed chicken breast was easily the best entrée. The herb-marinated breast was stuffed with ham, smoked gouda and dried cranberries, then grilled and topped with a white cream sauce. The combination of the sauce and herbs was wonderful as was the salty-smoky-sweet stuffing.

Other decent finds:

•The Bison Burger was seared perfectly but still juicy and it had that hint of gamey flavor that differentiated it from the norm.

•The Irish Nachos were the best appetizer with shredded corned beef, diced tomatoes, black olives and jalapenos and O’Reilly’s “famous” cheese sauce over crispy homemade potato chips.

O’Reilly’s biggest entrée failure was a dish that is pretty hard to mess up – Bangers and Mash. It wasn’t the quality of the mashed potatoes or the sausages that was the problem, it was the quantity. The menu said it featured “two hefty sausages,” but I got one average sized cut in half to make two small ones.

Bangers and Mash is supposed to be a hearty belly filler, but this version was more appetizer-sized. I also did not care too much for the thick, pasty red wine demi-glace that covered the plate.

That same sauce was used on the Irish Meatloaf and killed any chance it had of being good. It had potential, too, as it was made with a blend of beef, lamb and corned beef. But it was so heavily charred on a grill that the only other flavor besides the demi-glace was that of something burnt.

The Shepherd’s Pie could have used a little sauce. The combination of ground lamb, peas and corn that was the base of the pie was dry and lacked seasoning and flavor. The potato and cheddar cheese topping was also bland and the potatoes were too thin from being whipped too long. They were so thin I would have sworn they were instant, but my server insisted they weren’t.

One of O’Reilly’s desserts was worth going back for, but it, too, was badly flawed at first. The Cappuccino Panna Cota was delicious. It had the perfect consistency – custard not too thick or thin – and the coffee flavor was just enough to accentuate the chocolate syrup drizzled over it. However, my first version arrived drenched in a bright red strawberry sauce instead of chocolate and was sent back because the combination was so off-putting. I don’t know who thought strawberry went well with coffee, but whoever did was dead wrong.

The service also left a lot to be desired at O’Reilly’s. During one visit, a simple request to have the check divided was done incorrectly and I was charged for something I did not order. During another visit, the server was either new to the restaurant or to the career itself as he struggled with simple questions and seemed rather aloof. The best example of this was when he brought entrées to the table not five minutes after bringing soups and salads and boasted, “Man, the kitchen staff is doing a good job tonight.”

The service issues weren’t what made O’Reilly’s a place I will not be rushing back to. I can overlook a couple of bad servers and I can deal with Irish pubs that aren’t really Irish because there are few that truly are.

But I cannot overlook or deal with subpar food.

Restaurant: O’Reilly’s Irish Bar & Restaurant

Address: 301 W Jefferson Blvd.

Phone: 267-9679

Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily

Cuisine: Irish

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Irish Nachos ($8.99), Irish Appetizer ($5.99), cheese steak ($8.49), meatloaf ($10.99), stuffed chicken ($12.99), Shepherd’s Pie ($10.99), Bison burger ($10.99), fish and chips ($10.99)

Rating breakdown: Food: 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.