If you haven’t heard of the Paddy Shack by now, then you probably haven’t heard of the Halftime Rec, so we’ll start there. The Halftime Rec is a well-worn Irish bar in St. Paul that might as well be as old as the city itself. Perennially nominated or chosen as the best bar in both the dive and Irish categories, Halftime Rec boasts a row of taps that’s a mile long if it’s an inch, a TV in every sightline, bocce ball in the basement, live music, pull-tabs, a weekly meat raffle, and more shamrocks than you can shake a beer mug at. You’d be hard pressed to think of a more “St. Paul” bar.
In October 2014, Halftime Rec added to their brag-sheet the Paddy Shack: a kitchen run by James Beard-nominated chef Jack Riebel (most recently of Butcher and the Boar), with Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald of Smack Shack, in their second iteration of the “dive bar with chef-driven pub food” formula (1029 Bar/Smack Shack).
The menu covers a lot of ground, but all interpretively within the boundaries of the Emerald Isle. The curry wings ($10), Irish enough, we suppose, were generously dusted with enough spice to leave your fingers yellow and your tongue alight with flavor. Some of the wings were hot and crisp, but others were a little limp and had cooled, as though they had rested too long before our server brought them out.
Paddy Shack’s fish and chips ($13.45 for walleye) were as good as any chippy’s on this side of the pond. Three gargantuan pieces of fish were sealed steaming hot in crisp, thick breading and laid over fried potato wedges. A condiment-sized cup of mushy peas and an identical cup of tartar sauce accompanied the fish and chips. This is the kind of Irish pub food that is made for soaking up a belly full of Guinness. This much fish, of this quality, feels like a tremendous bargain at this price. The peas were sweet and delicious, but considering the quantity of fried food on the tray, a little more veg would have been welcome.
On both visits, our server delivered the corned beef sandwich ($11.45) with the warning, “Flip the sandwich over when you eat it or it will do a Cap’n Crunch on the roof of your mouth [to paraphrase].” The sandwich should come with a second warning, “If you eat this sandwich, you may never order anything else on the menu.” Which is to say that it is worth eating over and over, to the exclusion of whatever else is on the menu. The corned beef is sinfully tender, the Kerrygold cheddar is nutty, the horseradish mayo packs a teeny-tiny but critical kick, and the coleslaw balances everything out with a fresh, herbaceous crunch. It is a symphony that sandwich lovers will hear echoing through their heads.
So why the two names: the Paddy Shack and the Halftime Rec? Are they an older couple, each well established, who found one another and shacked up but will never get married? Are they a homely but fun-loving husband with a smart, pretty wife (or vice versa), and somehow it makes sense once you get to know them? Or are they just an old Irish pub with a new menu so good that it deserves its own name? I think we’ll go with that one.
Irish pub food inside the Halftime Rec
1013 Front Ave
St. Paul, MN 55103
Owner / Chef: Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald / Jack Riebel
Sun-Thu 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fri-Sat 11:30 a.m.-midnight
Vegetarian / Vegan: Yes / No