Bronx Eats: Shepherd's Pie at Sean's Quality Deli, Woodlawn
As Saint Patrick's Day rears its head once again and we collectively bunker down in anticipation of the hordes of drunken teenagers in "Kiss Me I'm Irish" shirts descending on 5th Avenue, the question arises: what should I eat? The answer is usually "obligatory corned beef" or "soda bread." Perhaps you make up for this in drinking. Say, at one of the faux pubs that pock Manhattan like leper's scars and offer bros an authentically brogue experience of buffalo wings and Coors Light. But if you want an even remotely Irish experience this year, you're best served shippin' up to Woodlawn.
One of the Bronx's northernmost locales, Woodlawn is the only neighborhood in New York that still receives a steady stream of fresh Irish immigrants. (This was not always the case, and relics of the north Bronx's emerald past can be found in the many aging Irish bars north of Fordham.) This is apparent in and around the commercial strip of Katonah Avenue, where you'll hear thick country accents at butchers like Prime Cuts and in the many pubs catering to the community. We've thus far neglected the neighborhood in this column, but that's due for a change—starting now.
I haven't been to Ireland since my first trip in 1998—when I was only 9 and I ate my first plate of mussels and had my first sip of stout—but I can tell you that after weeks of bingeing on goat followed by an evening of raccoon bacon, mealworms, and possum, the simple and straightforward flavors of Irish food were just what I needed.
Irish cooking does not have much luster, and it carries little weight in our era of bold flavors and exotic fetishes. But the Shephard's Pie ($6) at Sean's Quality Deli, served with a side and gravy ($8.50), is a dish that will take you right back home. The meat is well cooked and seasoned, moist and rich; the potato is a mild foil, and the gravy is—to my delight—unabashedly salty and gracelessly fatty.
I'm not going to call this food to lust over, because it's not, but it is a well prepared dish of the kind that we maybe ought to appreciate more, if even just on occasion. Ask for extra gravy and you just might forget about all those idiots in sparkling green leotards.
Sean's Quality Deli
4273 Katonah Ave, Bronx, NY 10470 (map)