Those who know me know I am definitely not a foodie, and getting me to go out for a meal sometimes takes extreme persuasion and even bribery. There are a few places across the country, however, that I am willing to drive well out of my way for; particularly when it comes to menu items that are hard to find anywhere else.
Kilkenny’s Irish Pub, Tulsa, OK
The first page of the Kilkenny’s menu reads ‘Boxty on the griddle, boxty in the pan, if you can’t make boxty, you’ll never get your man.’ If you haven’t had a boxty before, you are missing a treat. I was raised in the Pennsylvania Dutch potato culture, and have a sincere appreciation for potato dishes of all kinds. A boxty is a dish from rural Ireland, made of what is essentially an enormous potato crepe, wrapped around delicious fillings. You can find them here and there at Irish pubs in the U.S., but the only place I have ever found with a dedicated vegetarian vegetable boxty is in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Carrots, onions, zucchini, portabella mushrooms, red peppers, garlic, shallots, white wine, and Irish cheddar sauce, all wrapped in a grilled potato pancake. It is truly a dish worth making a trip for. Potato-loving vegetarians can also enjoy the colcannon (mashed potatoes with cabbage) and champ (mashed potatoes with cream and green onions), the potatoes o’gratin with cheddar sauce, potato soup with leeks, onions, and carrots, sweet potato fries, or good old-fashioned Irish pub chips with malt vinegar.
Mandalay, Silver Spring, MD
If you’ve spent any time with me in the D.C. area, I’ve probably tried to drag you to Mandalay. In all of my traveling, it is the only strictly Burmese restaurant I’ve ever encountered in the U.S. Burma, or Myanmar, is a country in Southeastern Asia bordered by India and China, and its cuisine is a mix of the flavours you find in Indian, Thai, and Vietnamese foods, while having its own unique character and taste. I love spicy food, and Mandalay has the distinction of being the only restaurant whose dishes at ‘native’-level spice have brought tears pouring down my cheeks. It’s flavorful, unusual, and utterly delicious.
Some of my personal favourites are the NanNanBin Hin, with cilantro (or basil) simmered in onions and tomatoes along with fried tofu; the Aloo ChoChin Gyaw, which features fried potatoes, green peppers, onions, and tomatoes; and the Tofu Ohnno Hin, a coconut cream curry with green peppers, onions, and tomatoes that makes all other coconut curries seem inferior. If you have room for dessert, which may be debatable, they sometimes have a special ShweJi; a thick and creamy baked pudding that can be served with coconut ice cream inside a coconut shell.
Black Gryphon, Elizabethtown, PA
This last is a fairly new find, but I already make excuses to visit whenever I’m in the area. The menu is not hugely vegetarian-friendly, but there is always a vegetarian entrée on the menu, and a great assortment of sides, salads, soups, and starters. Black Gryphon is ostensibly a Welsh pub, but the menu changes seasonally and is largely based on what the owner sources locally from farmers, frequently with a distinctly international flair. I’ve been told the fish ’n’ chips is exceptional (the chips certainly are), and the house-made tin bread is dangerously good—if you aren’t careful, you may fill up before the meal.
There are two dishes I come back for, one traditional Welsh and one with a Welsh twist. Rarebit, also known as ‘rabbit’, is a Welsh dish of melted cheese and other ingredients that is served poured over toasted bread. It is rich and decadent, and Black Gryphon makes theirs with cheddar and lager. My other favourite is the Welsh seasonal pierogies. Pierogies are Polish, not Welsh, but Black Gryphon’s are stuffed with seasonal Welsh ‘stwmp’: a mash made of root vegetables and starches that is wrapped in dough and fried to perfection in brown or onion butter. The stwmp changes based on what vegetables are in season, so it might be made from a combination of beets, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, radishes, carrots, or whatever else is ripe and tasty.
The dessert menu, like the entrées, is always changing (we recently lamented the loss of the delectable mocha mousse), but one staple thus far has been the Fried Milk & Morning Cereal. With a different pairing every day, this treat features a scoop of ice cream rolled in a crunchy coating of breakfast cereal and deep-fried. While you might look askance at first, I can promise it is utterly decadent and delicious. There are often cakes and fruit cobblers if you’re looking for something a little more authentically Welsh.
Photos: Black Gryphon, Kilkenny’s, Foursquare