Sláinte Delivers Great Pub Grub and Beverages
This newish Jack London Square Irish outpost produces food fit for foodies.
Photo by Lori Eanes
When people ask us why we fell so hard in love with Ireland, Robin and I mention the people, the countryside, the drink, and the food. Everyone gets the first three. The Irish are legendarily hospitable, quick to laughter, and given to brilliant storytelling. The country’s name immediately conjures images of rolling green pastures dotted with sheep, and villages stitched together by narrow roads constrained between ancient, low stone walls. And then there’s Guinness, Jameson, and a slew of beers and spirits lesser known this side of the pond.
The food takes more explaining, so we describe what the Irish call their Good Food movement, our encounter with Darina Allen, the “Alice Waters of Ireland,” at Ballymaloe, and how we enjoyed unexpectedly refined locavore meals, comparable to any “rustic elegant” repast in Oakland or Berkeley, from Cork to Belfast, from Dublin to Galway. Truth be told, we also developed a deep affection for the ordinary food upon which Ireland’s unfit-for-foodies reputation was built, especially brown bread or soda bread with Kerrygold butter and/or cheese, bangers and mash, and fish and chips. I did drink my share (but hardly an Irishman’s share) of ale and stout and whiskey, and we also found plenty of fine imported wine. But I refuse to believe our appreciation of the food was a consequence of alcohol-dulled taste buds. I feel the same about my love affair with Sláinte, the Irish pub that opened in Oakland’s Jack London district in April 2017.
Jackie Gallanagh, a native of Donegal, an Oaklander for two decades, and a real estate agent by profession, was longing so much for a real pub experience in her adopted home that she decided to create one. As should be the case with a place whose name is the Gaelic expression for “cheers,” Sláinte (pronounced “slahn-cha”) is a drinking establishment of the first order. In Oakland in 2017, however, that means not just astute and affable bartenders, expertly drawn pints of stout, and a wide selection of whiskey and other spirits, but a sophisticated cocktail program as well. Gallanagh and her wife were regulars at Hopscotch, and when that Uptown restaurant’s beverage director, Jenny Schwarz, heard about Gallanagh’s plans, she jumped at the chance to fill the same role at (and become a co-owner of) the new enterprise.
Our experience at Sláinte began with two of Schwarz’s “Favourite Cocktails”—a Gin Ricky (gin, lime, ginger, seltzer) and a Manhattan-like Red O’Hanlon. Both were stellar. We’ve since tasted the excellent Whiskey Sour, made like a pisco sour with foamy egg whites and bitters, and have our sights set on the Bitter Lemon (tequila, cucumber, bitter lemon soda). Unless you need a wide choice of wines—the menu lists only two sparklers, a Spanish rosé, a French chardonnay, and a French syrah—Sláinte should slake your thirst for just about any libation, from a four-buck Miller High Life, a satisfying Black & Tan (Harp lager and creamy Guinness), and an ideal Irish coffee to a 3-ounce flight of Red Breast whiskey (12-year, 15-year, and sherry cask finish) or a $28 Midleton Very Rare whiskey.
Gallanagh’s ambition was to offer not only good drinking but also good eating. Having paid some teenage dues in “chippy” shops back home, she knows her way around a thickly sliced potato, a beautifully battered chunk of fish, and a deep fryer. Sláinte’s fish and chips, served with mushy peas or cabbage slaw, prove that commonplace food can become exceptional through the use of quality ingredients and exacting execution. Both the overnight-soaked spuds and the wild Alaskan cod, fried in beef tallow (or rice bran oil upon request), achieve that rarefied balance of crispy and tender textures.
Sláinte’s “pub snacks” likewise rise above run-of-the-mill bar nibbles. Garlic- and sea salt-seasoned mixed nuts arrive warm in a scrunched paper wrapper; marinated olives are also served warm, made tangy with garlic, citrus, and capers; crispy Brussels sprouts are sauced with an addictive “GLP” (garlic-lemon-pepper) aioli; slices of Irish white cheddar accompany the thickly buttered (Kerrygold, of course) soda bread; and chips can be ordered with a green apple and onion curry sauce or with roasted garlic, Dubliner cheddar, and chives.
Photo by Lori Eanes
The Full Irish
Of the more ample “traditional grub” plates, which include a soup of the day, two salads, a fish sandwich, and a Bacon Buddy sandwich on a baguette, so far it’s a tossup for me between the fish and chips, the shepherd’s pie (lamb, carrots, rutabagas, and peas steaming beneath a top layer of mashed potatoes), and the lamb sliders, a pair of them served on lightly toasted rustic rolls with arugula, pickled onions, and GLP sauce. There’s only one dessert, but it’s a doozy: warm Guinness ginger cake, slightly crunchy on the outside, with whiskey whipped cream.
We haven’t made it in for brunch, when Benedicts, sweet potato pancakes, colcannon hash, and smoked salmon are available, but I’m happy to report that the Full Irish is “Served All Day Every Day!” Against my better dietary judgment, I ate more than a few of these breakfast combo platters in Ireland. Sláinte’s version is only slightly less daunting in terms of overall volume, but the essentials—Irish sausage, a tangle of fatty bacon, fried eggs, baked beans, roasted tomato, soda bread, blood-sausage-based black and white puddings (imported from Ireland), and boxty (potato pancake)—add up to a properly grand indulgence. A vegetarian version is offered, too.
The few miscues that cropped up on three visits included delays in food delivery (our Brussels sprouts were comped for that reason one night) and dishes that arrived barely lukewarm or underseasoned. But the combination of a convivial staff and virtually nonstop tippling opened the floodgates of forgiveness.
At less than six months old, Sláinte already felt well lived in, partly by design—lots of oak and faux-aged exposed brick, dark olive-green paint, two comfy armchairs facing a fireplace, bookshelves populated by Irish authors, a dart board near the bar, European or Oakland sports on a TV behind the bar, collectibles and tchotchkes everywhere—and partly by a natural neighborly energy, enlivened by live traditional acoustic music on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Sinead O’Connor, and Bono look like they feel at home in their portraits and photographs on the walls of the two bar-connected rooms. It’s a feeling easy to share in Sláinte’s spirited confluence of amiable people, warm setting, great drink, and good food.
Sláinte Pub & Grub
Irish Pub. 131 Broadway, Oakland,
510-823-2644. Pub snacks $3-$12, soups, salads, sandwiches, mains $7-$18, brunch dishes $8-$18. Serves lunch and dinner Tue.-Fri.
11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-12 a.m.,
Sat. 10 a.m.-12 a.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-11 p.m., and brunch Fri., Sat., Sun. 'til 2 p.m. SlainteOakland.com CCG☎(for large private parties only) $$-$$$