Irish Comfort Food

Ri Ra Irish Pub is synonymous with live music, drink specials, and a night out with friends. But by day, this evening hot spot, going strong for five years on Riverside Drive across from Casino Aztar, transitions into a lunch bistro with an across-the-Atlantic vibe.

So authentic is the Irish pub’s physical presence that the interiors were salvaged and restored in Ireland prior to shipping to Evansville. It’s no surprise, then, that on the Irish-infused lunch menu is goat cheese, Guinness as a recipe ingredient, and plenty of unfamiliar Irish names: What’s a Doonbeg? (Research revealed it’s not a “what” but a “where,” but on the menu, it’s a salad named for a western Irish village.)

I recently tried the Kilree chicken ($11.95) with a white-wine-lemon-caper butter sauce. Though it shares a name with the Kilree monastic site in Ireland, the breaded chicken dish is both comforting and familiar (a bit more Midwestern than Irish) — and, according to general manager Nicole Schmitt, one of the pub’s best sellers. Once relegated to the summer menu, this dining favorite now is a year-round option.

The warm, crispy, lightly breaded chicken breast arrives in artful repose atop a fluffy mound of mashed potatoes and flanked by a colorful array of grilled summer vegetables. It tastes as good as it looks — the juxtaposition of the chicken’s crispy outside and tender, juicy inside; the smooth yet firm texture of the potatoes; and the tender-crisp vegetables.

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