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Simple, satisfying stick-to-your-bones Irish grub.

Meat and Potatoes

The land of saints and scholars is not generally known for its cuisine. Although it is well-known in the culinary world that the Irish surpassed the French in culinary wizardry before the English arrived, the years - and the English - have taken their toll.

Despite its dedication to Irish culinary authenticity, Rare Olde Times offers a pleasant dining experience worth checking out and a lamb stew worth coming back for. Stated simply: The unpretentious menu follows through on its promises.

Many of the regulars who congregate here were fans of the proprietors, Andy and Cindy Jennings, when they used to perform regularly at MattOs British Pub in Shockoe Slip before they opened Rare Olde Times in 1994. The duo (and guests) still play a combination of Irish and American folk songs every Friday and Saturday on a humble stage to a mostly local, middle-aged crowd that packs the house. Tuesdays through Thursdays feature other folk and revival acts including an Irish-American Pub band Uisc'e Beatha (which means whisky, or literally, water of life in Irish) that attracts a slightly younger, mixed crowd.

The soup specials are really worth trying. I sampled the lamb stew ($3.95 a bowl), which was extraordinary. There were peppery, tender chunks of lamb, potatoes and vegetables in its natural thick sauce so thick you didn't need the bowl it came in. I am unsure what is Southwestern about the Southwestern seafood bisque with crab, salmon, scallops and shrimp in a clam broth, but I hope that it makes a return appearance as well. Sandwich selections range from the simple (a grilled cheese, $4.50); to the coronary (a deli club ($7.95) that includes enough pastrami, corned beef and knockwurst to clog even those hard-to-find arteries).

If you are a vegetarian or a health nut, stick with the Guinness. But if the sight of a grazing cow along the edge of a highway makes you salivate, try the savory shepherdOs pie ($9.95). This enticing traditional Irish dish is prepared with ground beef (left pink) mixed with peas and carrots under a thick layer of mashed potatoes and baked with an additional layer of white cheddar cheese. It finally hits the plate bathed in a rich brown gravy bearing a sheen you can see your reflection in.

If fish and chips ($9.95) or the corned beef and cabbage ($10.95) donOt appeal to you or your more Protestant friends, there is an entree section Ofor the not so Irish,O where you can find grilled chicken ($9.95), crab cakes ($12.95) and grilled tuna ($9.95). On one occasion, I found the tuna mediocre and cooked a bit past the requested medium. It was served with a side of pale peas and carrots that lacked bragging rights. Nonetheless, the accompanying generous helping of creamy mashed potatoes and gravy clung amiably to the palate and bones alike.

Despite its unglamorous menu, Rare Olde Times makes a good impression. It lacks the pretentious nonsense found in so many bar-restaurants that complicate the simple and then have the nerve to throw on a high price tag. A two-course meal (which is more than enough) and two pints of Guinness ($4.50) and a decent tip (20 percent) will cost you about $40. When considering that there is no cover charge for the evening performances, this is a price worth paying. Although I do believe that a volume discount on the Guinness would be prudent.

Rare Olde Times, Irish Public House
10602 Patterson Avenue
(In the Canterbury Shopping Center)
750 1346
Open for dinner Monday-Saturday
3:00p.m. - 12:00p.m.
Reservations recommended for parties of 6 or

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