Another St. Patrick’s Day came and went this past Monday, and in true, own-your-ginger-heritage style, I chose to don green, tame my redhead mane, and go out to partake of all the Irish fare possible. Irish food and spirits run aplenty in the rainy, emerald isles of our Willamette Valley. I was thrilled to hear that there would be a new Irish Restaurant opening in downtown Salem just in time for the festive holiday.
Sisters Irish Bistro is co-owned and operated by a mother-daughter team, Judith Moss and Tena Khonizy, respectively. The Bistro is located in the Reed Opera House and offers small plate appetizers, salad, soup, lunch and dinner entrees, and dessert. The bistro also boasts a full-service coffee bar.
Upon entering the restaurant in its quaint location on the bottom floor of the Reed, I can instantly see the potential. Lit by bright yet tasteful lamplight, I take in the old stone-and-mortar walls, vintage-style stained glass windows, rustic mahogany beams and tables, and fancy faux fireplace; they have carved out the perfect location for an authentic Irish Bistro in the heart of our capital.
Moss and Khonizy share their heritage with pride in providing genuine Irish cuisine from recipes that have been in their family for generations. The simple menu includes the traditional Irish meals: Corned Beef & Cabbage, Bangers & Mash, and Irish Beef Stew, all averaging around $10 per entrée. Appetizers include salad and soup of the day, while the dessert bar flaunts four different Irish-style cakes (Irish Oatmeal, Apple Rum, Carrot, and Irish Fantasy).
Granted, service was a little slow, but I expected that, being their opening day and the most important holiday for them. Khonizy was being a very gracious hostess/waitress/cook/busboy, and I give her all the wonderful credit she deserves for visibly working so hard. (Some people may call that poor business planning, but when you’re starting a niche, family-run business, things don’t go perfectly well on Day One, and not every employee is able to hire employees right away. Everyone should know that, and respect it. *Steps off soapbox.*)
I didn’t mind waiting for my meal; I was too busy enjoying the Celtic music playing in the background and soaking in the surroundings. There were already eight people seated for dinner when I arrived (the restaurant seats 20 at this time). I overheard Khonizy talk about the intense lunch rush they already witnessed that day, and no one seemed perturbed about the wait for food since we had such an accommodating and sweetly-apologetic hostess. Besides…we could smell it. And it was heavenly. It’s wonderful to see people supporting local businesses, even if it means listening to your stomach growl a little longer.
Dining on a budget can really be a drag, sometimes, but it was St. Patrick’s Day and I needed to save money for my favorite pubs. Thus, I only ordered an entrée, the classic Corned Beef & Cabbage (and water, since they do not carry alcohol…yet? Hehe). My Irish mother makes this dish every March the 17th to celebrate our roots, and I have yet to find a comparable recipe. Yes, I’m a stingy redhead when it comes to my corned beef and cabbage.
My food arrived piping hot, fresh, and cooked to perfection: a beautiful mess of diced red potatoes, cabbage leaves, juicy corned beef, onions and carrots, topped with fresh pieces of Irish soda bread. The flavor was parallel to my own mother’s recipe; slightly salty, with that almost-bacon flavor, the right fall-apart texture to the beef, the steamed cabbage with just the slightest crispness (not soggy, yay!), the carrots and onions provided a hint of sweetness to offset the salt of the beef, and the potatoes cooked just long enough to hold moisture while maintaining a palatable, soft pulp. I sopped whatever dregs and gravy were left with my soda bread, which was sweet and dense and yeasty (the good kind of yeasty—like, ‘this bread tastes homemade’ yeasty).
Forced to forego the dessert options due to budgeting, I paid, thanked the owner, and left. (Khonizy was kind enough to discount my bill due to the slow service.) Overall, a very pleasant experience. I have to report that the service was slower than expected, and they were clearly understaffed. BUT, as stated before, being their first day open to the public, it was understandably hectic. That’s all I can complain about, really. Our food was hot and delicious, the ambiance was appropriate for the restaurant, and the owner was very friendly and accommodating. I hope to go back in a few months once they’ve had the chance to streamline their business and see how they have improved.
Conclusively, I give Sisters Irish Bistro a 4/5; a fantastic restaurant with plenty of potential, but also some room to improve. Thanks for making my St. Patrick’s Day authentic. Erin go bragh!
Sisters Irish Bistro is located at 189 Liberty St. NE Suite B9, in the basement of the Reed Opera House. Hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily as of 03/26/2014 (hours are subject to change due to family needs; see their Facebook Page for updates).
For more information, call (503) 877-0318 or check their Facebook page.