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A McKenna Sampler

Here are some of the McKennas' favorite places to find real Irish food.

March 15, 2000

NORTHERN IRELAND

John and Sally McKenna call the Rankins the most important Irish restaurateurs of the last decade, and they point to a Rankin-trained chef as the country's rising star. He is Robbie Millar; with his wife Shirley, he runs the unromantically named Shanks.

To John McKenna, not a sporting soul, the oddest thing about Shanks is the location. "It's a golf course restaurant," he says, the note of incredulity irrepressible.

Dishes singled out by the McKennas include daube of beef with Parmesan ravioli and chocolate tarts with pistachio ice -cream.

Shanks, The Blackwood, 150 Crawfordsburn Road, Clandeboye, Bangor, County Down; (011) 44-28-91-853-313.

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DUBLIN

Whether one shops first and drinks later or drinks first and shops later is a choice the McKennas leave entirely up to visitors. However, two things that they thoroughly recommend doing when in Dublin are stopping for a perfect pint of Guinness in a classic Irish bar and perusing a growing selection of Irish farmhouse cheeses.

It is best, they say, not to go to Sheridan's with a particular cheese in mind. Rather, Seamus and Kevin Sheridan or any of a knowledgeable staff will offer you whatever is in the best condition. This might be the classic Cashel Blue from County Tipperary or a relative newcomer, an unpasteurized, semisoft cow's milk cheese called Durrus from County Cork. The emergence of Durrus, say the McKennas, is a sign that Irish cheese-making is not just surviving but evolving.

The International Bar, they say, may not be as ornate as some, but it is "absolutely classic. . . . There is a wooden carved bar in a really very simple and plain room," says John. "It has beautiful afternoon light. There is no food and very poor coffee, but the Guinness is well drawn indeed. It takes 10 minutes, and the bartender, Simon, is great. He's been there forever."

Whatever you do, he says, don't drink Guinness in New Wave places aimed at the youth market. It may be bottled and is often refrigerated. "It's like Guinness Popsicles," he says. "It's a travesty."

Sheridan's, 11 S. Anne St., Dublin 2; (011) 353-1-679-3143. International Bar, 23 Wicklow St., Dublin 2; no telephone.

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COUNTY KERRY

At Allo's Bar and Bistro, the only thing missing, says John, is the word "bedrooms" in the name. There are three comfortably appointed bedrooms for rent above his favorite pub. And they come in handy after test-driving Jameson's 12-year-old Redbreast whiskey. The food, he says, is stuff that "anyone from 9 to 90 could enjoy": lamb-burgers, local duck with potato stuffing, lasagna of monkfish and prawns.

Allo's Bar and Bistro, 41 Church St., Listowel; (011) 353-68-22880.

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COUNTY CORK

Midleton is best known as home to the Jameson distillery. When there, the McKennas say, eat at the Clean Slate. Here a former chef from the famed Ballymaloe House produces Ballymaloe-style classics, including deep-fried squid, baked cod and local duck with orange and Port sauce.

Clean Slate, Distillery Walk, Midleton; (011) 353-21-633655.

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The McKennas' Bridgestone pocket guide titles, "100 Best Restaurants in Ireland," and "100 Best Places to Stay in Ireland," are between printings; the 2000 editions will be out shortly. The 1999 big book, which we recommend, is current: "The Bridgestone Irish Food Guide" (Estragon Press, $23.95). All are available through Amazon.com's British service (http://www.amazon.co.uk), Irish Books and Media in Minneapolis, 1433 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55404-2135; (612) 871-3505 or (800) 229-3505. http://www.irishbook.com, and online from Fred Hanna's Bookstore in Dublin http://www.hannas.ie.

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