Having traveled to Ireland a few times, I’ve always been intrigued by some of the more self-deprecating names Irish pubs choose for themselves. In Dublin for instance there’s the Hairy Lemon (no, really). In Galway there’s the Dust Inn, and in Cork there’s The Blue Loo.
Right here in Rhode Island we have Fat Belly’s Irish Pub and Grille. Evidently pub-lovers are not put off by names like this. In fact, judging from the number of patrons at Fat Belly’s on Metacom Avenue in Warren on a recent Friday night, people are really drawn to pubs like this.
Of course it’s not just the name that attracts folks. It’s the atmosphere and the pub-style menu at Fat Belly’s that brings them here, and keeps them coming back.
Located in what for years had been a rather nondescript Italian restaurant called The Tuscan Grille, Fat Belly’s has re-created a very authentic Irish pub atmosphere. There’s the dark wood paneling, the soft, amber lighting and the convivial, family-friendly mood, along with an abundance of great beers, ales and fancy cocktails.
As far as the food menu goes, it offers a surprisingly broad variety that’s not limited to standard Irish pub food.
For appetizers, there are BBQ Chicken Nachos, Eggplant Napoleon with portabella mushrooms, marinara sauce, provolone cheese and fresh basil, and of course, the mandatory Rhode Island classic, Calamari which comes with either a cherry pepper tartar dipping sauce, or with a tangy buffalo sauce topped with gorgonzola cheese. Appetizer prices range from $6 to $10.99.
There are probably not a lot of pubs in Ireland that offer six different kinds of pizza, but at Fat Belly’s you can choose the more American version of the Italian classic with toppings like chicken, bacon and ranch. Other options include the Buffalo pizza with grilled chicken and gorgonzola and mozzarella cheese and the Spinach Pie pizza with black olives, pepperoni, feta and mozzarel- la. Pizza prices range from $10.99 to $11.99, and can served on a gluten-free shell for .99 cents more.
And with yet another nod of appreciation for Italian food, Fat Belly’s offers an appetizing choice of paninis with fillings such as Genoa salami, ham, banana peppers, red onion, tomato and provolone cheese.
We began our food excursion with a Pear Gorgonzola Salad that lived up to its “garden fresh” promise. Every veggie was perfectly crisp, and the balance of red onions, pears and crumbled gorgonzola was just right. Fat Belly’s salad menu also includes their meal-in-itself Blackened Chicken Arugula Salad ($11.99).
Families with little kids started to arrive during our meal. Luckily, Fat Belly’s has a nice big game room with a pool table, video games and basketball hoops to keep the little ones busy while their folks enjoyed their cocktails and beers.
It was time now for our entrées. Fat Belly’s Signature Sandwiches and Entrees menu presents a range of pub food, featuring their Big Belly Burger with caramelized onions, cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and fried onion strips with a savory mayo ($11.99).
Other options included the Mil Pil Pulled Pork ($11.99), a slow-roasted pulled pork with barbecue sauce topped with cheddar and fried onions, a French Dip ($9.99) with sliced roast beef on a torpedo roll with provolone, a classic Reuben ($9.99), Shepherds’ Pie ($11.99) with mashed potatoes and cheddar jack cheese.
For my entrée, I thought I’d do a little comparison test so I ordered the Patty Melt ($10.99) to see how this Fat Belly version measured up to Rhode Island’s Newport Creamery favorite. Fat Belly’s Black Angus burger meat was thicker than the Creamery’s petite patties, and it was as deliciously juicy as it could be. Fat Belly’s patty was served on marble rye instead of plain rye bread, and they used Swiss cheese instead of cheddar. The caramelized onions were nicely done, sweet and very much like the Creamery’s. The only real difference was the size and texture of the meat. I was hard put to say which version is better. I guess if you’re really hungry, Fat Belly’s Patty Melt wins. Plus, it comes with a hefty side order of perfectly crisp French fries coated with truffle oil and Parmesan cheese that were very good and not too salty.
Our other main dish was the Milano Panini ($9.99). The Milano contains lightly fried eggplant, provolone cheese, roasted red peppers and baby spinach topped with a creamy pesto sauce. It’s served on lightly toasted Italian bread and would be good for dinner or lunch.
Desserts are not house-made but whoever makes them certainly knows what they’re doing. I chose the irresistible Turtle Cheesecake with a smooth graham cracker crust. Doused with a caramel sauce, chopped walnuts and pecans, it was about as good a dessert as I’ve had in a while. Our other game-winner was the Key Lime Pie tinted with white chocolate ganache.
There is a good deal more on Fat Belly’s menu than can fit here. Coming away from this handsome, friendly pub, it’s hard not to conclude that it is indeed, aptly named.