EGG HARBOR CITY - You've got to like a restaurant that has a picture of the Mona Lisa with a draught beer in her hand. It's a dark beer, probably a Guinness stout. What better introduction to the world of fine art and McKee's Irish pub?
The first time we went to McKee's, our server told us the specials were on the wall. The only blackboard we saw offered sandwich and beer specials, so we ordered a pub burger and some fish and chips.
The burger was OK, and the fish and chips were good, although somewhat greasy. It was only after we finished that we noticed the actual dinner-special board. On our return trip we knew where to look, although we ended up ordering from the menu anyway.
From the Pub Grub Munchies section we selected the bang bang shrimp ($8.50). Six shrimp were butterflied, batter-dipped then deep-fried and served with a spicy mayonnaise and chili sauce. Served on a bed of iceberg lettuce, the food was not fussy, but it was perfectly cooked and fun to eat. The mozzarella sticks ($5) were more typical bar fare, the kind with a heavy breading that remains intact long after the cheese has oozed out into the deep fryer. The marinara sauce served with it was tasty but cold.
Our request for the Guinness beef stew was rebuffed; none was left in the kitchen this particular evening. Instead, we opted for shepherd's pie ($9), a classic dish of ground beef, onions and carrots in a brown sauce covered by a layer of piped mashed potatoes then baked in the oven. It was so hot we had to wait for it to cool down to eat it.
We cleaned the plate. Chicken pot pie ($7) was served under a brown puff-pastry cap in a heavy crock with plenty of tender chunks of white-meat chicken, potatoes and carrots in a slightly thickened broth. Good, hearty and filling fare, served at a fair price.
Our server offered the dessert of the day, homemade but not concocted on the premises. A large wedge of double chocolate cake was moist and chocolaty, with added chocolate shavings on the outside and plenty of whipped cream on top. Dessert and coffee ($5) were priced together on the bill for some reason.
In authentic Irish pub fashion, nearly everything inside is made of dark wood. Worn wooden floors, wooden bar and wooden chairs all lend a certain authenticity to the place.
Some of the wooden wall panels were salvaged from the old Atlantic City high school building, and the ceiling overhead is an amazingly intricate, painted, pressed-tin original from the 19th century. Tables are covered with long oilcloth - green, of course. A Coors light cardboard six-pack holder serves as caddy for condiments, salt and pepper shakers and napkins.
Our black-clad server was friendly in a comfortable-pub way. We were made to feel like one of the regulars as soon as we were seated.
Walls feature everything from a newspaper photograph of everyone's favorite Irish-American president to political cartoons. Walls are chock-a-block with turtle shells, mugs, Irish flags, Celtic crosses and a wooden helm from an old ship. The wild boar mounted just above the covered fireplace looked real, but the bent-glass Tiffany pendants with one bulb burned out in each set of three probably were reproductions. We still aren't sure which was louder, the patrons at the bar discussing favorite secret fishing holes or the rock and roll blaring from the juke box. What would you expect? It's an Irish pub, not a prayer meeting.
(C.C. Hoyt is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Hoyt c/o Food Editor James Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org. Restaurant-ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.)
446 St. Louis Ave.
Egg Harbor City
Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily
Liquor license: Yes
Disabled access: Yes
Credit cards: Cash only (ATM on premises)
Price range: Appetizers, $4.50 to $8.50; entrees, $7 to $10.50
Our bill for two: $44 plus tip