Erin Go Green: Emma's Ale House
A brighter, airier take on the Irish bar tradition.
As someone of partially Irish descent, I feel comfortable with the assertion that—in general—the culinary traditions of the Emerald Isle have gotten roughed up on these shores. Gone are the soulful, artisanal cheeses like Gubbeen or Durrus, gone are the sparkling fresh oysters from Galway Bay, and gone are bright coastal greens like samphire. Instead, we Americans of Irish ancestry are stuck with corned beef and cabbage, a dreary dish that turns out to be a New York innovation, anyway.
Yet Emma’s Ale House, the casual bar/restaurant opened by the Black Bear Saloon’s former owning partner Casey Egan (and taking over from Sunset Grille), offers some respite. Rather than treading the worn, sepia-tinged ground of Irish-themed bars, Emma’s newly light-flooded space is offering an American fusion. Sure, you’ll find respectful Hibernian standards like a starter of beef and barley soup ($7)—taupe, thick with chewy cereal and so welcome on a chilly spring afternoon—and the requisite main of Guinness-braised beef stew ($16), but you’ll also find a trio of sliders ($9). Picking three from a selection of five sliders, we were happily surprised by a delicious, three-bite Philly cheesesteak (sadly unavailable elsewhere on the menu), a boldly funky morsel of filet mignon with Gorgonzola and onions, and a juicy, satisfying cheeseburger-let.
Emma’s kitchen specializes in stick-to-the-ribs standards, so lighter appetites fare well with abbreviated ordering. We would have been content with an Italianate macaroni and cheese starter ($8), in which curls of pasta in a loose, creamy sauce are punctuated by salty bacon and the grassy pop of peas. Meanwhile, large cones of limp hand-cut fries with sea salt ($6) can be passed up for the delicious house-made potato chips that accompany many entrées. When last we visited, these fascinating munchies came sprinkled with a sugar-and-salt BBQ spice mixture that we found shamefully delicious. The chips also come as a starter with blue cheese and truffle oil ($7), and look like the perfect pivot-point for a tour of Emma’s ten draft (and 20 bottled) beers.
Cepaire—presented on the menu as Irish sandwiches—promise a Celtic spin on panini, though the compositions are recognizably American. Look for a hand-held crab cake ($15); an open-faced strip steak sandwich with onions, mushrooms, and melted Gorgonzola ($15); and a rich lamb confit on a baguette with tomato confit, mesclun, and basil mayonnaise ($15). Sadly, though so appealing on the menu, the pleasantly gamey, roast-Sunday-dinner flavor of the lamb confit sandwich was marred by a tide of watery tomatoes—a tragedy in an otherwise seductive bite (though the nostalgic blast of barbecue potato chips won us back).
We’re including Emma’s in our $20 and Under category, but one could certainly spend more at this restaurant. Entrées range from $15 (chicken pot pie) to $28 (14-ounce prime sirloin steak with home fries and red-wine sauce), though we suspect that most diners pick less aspirational dishes. Burgers beckon at $11, while fish and chips go for $19, and buttermilk fried chicken (available only on Tuesday) is $18: all sound like perfect picks for this sunlit, yet still pubby, space. Better still, you’ll have lots of company: canny manager Catherine DeLuca, lately of Heathcote Tavern and Rye Bar and Grill, keeps this big barroom hopping—even in these lean times.
Finally, Emma’s Alehouse also has the trendy merit of ethicism. Not only does $1 of your macaroni and cheese go to melanoma research, but this cheerful restaurant is certified by the Green Restaurant Association, a growing hospitality-industry accreditation organization that stipulates eco-friendly cleaning products and responsible waste-management and energy-use policies. All very nice…but it pales beside the beauty of house-made barbecue potato chips, I’m afraid.
♦ ♦ ♦
68 Gedney Way, White Plains
Hours: Sun 12 pm–10 pm, Mon to Thurs 12 pm-11 pm, Fri and Sat 12 pm–12 am
Appetizers: $7-$12; entrées: $15-$28; desserts: $5-$8
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦—Outstanding ♦ ♦ ♦ —Very Good
♦ ♦ —Good ♦ —Fair