This year for St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to be a bit crazy and go to the most famous, and maybe only, Irish eatery in town. Fiddler’s Hearth, a pub with a farm to table, “Celtic” style menu, is located in downtown South Bend, just minutes from Notre Dame. Irish roots run deep in South Bend, and the place is always well populated, so you know the biggest Irish holiday of the year is going to be a bit crowded.
After awkwardly parallel parking in front of the restaurant around noon day, a friend and I had arrived. It’s a seat yourself type of place, and because the building is small, a lot of times you end up sharing a farm style table with someone new, or maybe even two, or four, or ten people. But that’s okay, because The Fiddler’s Hearth does an excellent job of creating a low key, friendly, family-like atmosphere, at least on non holidays. It was the same for St Patrick’s Day, except the low key part. But I should have expected St. Patrick’s Day to have a little bit more of an upbeat energy. It was similar to how most places celebrate New Year’s Eve.
As soon as I stepped through the door I was smacked with noise of a hundred plus people. Low key had been replaced with holiday fever. There were people everywhere you looked, standing, sitting, walking. About a half second later, I noticed there was a band playing an Irish fiddle or two loudly in the back. I’m not really sure, exactly what they looked like, because I never did get a straight on view of the band through the crowd, and it was hard to hear them over all the talking. But whatever I did hear was great. Fiddles are one of those instruments that always make me happy. If it were up to me, they would line the streets to heaven with fiddles rather than harps. Of course than you would see people like me skipping some awkward jig to the pearly gates. So maybe it’s best it’s not up to me.
An older gentleman holding a museum sized book (I’m talking ten commandments size) was standing at the door waiting for a table to clear. He mentioned he had been there for over an hour already waiting for a seat. But he did not seem too upset about it. Lots of people were standing double parked at the bar, making do with a counter to prop their drinks or food on. The other people that came in behind us started meandering around to find a seat that may have been overlooked. I quickly realized I would have to be a wee bit more aggressive to get a spot somewhere where I could sit and eat something. I have to say that I have a hard time navigating between polite assertiveness and all out competition. It’s definitely something I need to work on. But before I had to push someone out of their seat ands tell them to swallow their last sip on the road, a friendly older gentleman with a gigantic, green striped Dr. Seuss hat told me I could have his spot.
He then took off his hat and tried to put it on my head. He had a little trouble with this, and we had to make at least three or four attempts because he said he could not find my head. But I actually have a pretty gigantic noggin, so I think just maybe he had a shot of whiskey or two already. He wandered off, leaving me clutching the hat and looking for his seat, which turned out to be at the bar in the last corner by the kitchen. I’m not sure exactly how I found it, but it turns out he was accompanied by his brother, also wearing a great oversized green sparkly hat, and his two daughters. Super excellent Irish family. They gave us their seats and put their hats on our head, took our picture for their family blog and wished us a happy St. Patrick’s Day. I guess eating at The Hearth and then giving away their hats to some lucky individuals is a yearly tradition. I was instantly jealous and honored at the same time. I was also a little in shock. I only felt slightly guilty about the museum gentleman who still was waiting, but it turned out he was waiting on some people, so he wasn’t ready yet anyways.
After managing the gigantic bar stools, we were settled in with our new head attire and ready to have a drink. When the waitstaff got a break, they zoomed in and dropped off their simplified Patty’s Day menu. I debated between whiskey and the Belhaven Scottish Ale they had on tap. In the end, the ale won out, which is not surprising since I was looking for just that.
Their food variety is spectacularly Irish/Scottish and delicious looking. We ended up trying the fish and chips. It comes wrapped in the local newspaper, which in this case was the South Bend Tribune. So I guess if you are old school, and don’t mind your news a little greasy and past dated, you could get some reading done. Museum man, you could have left your book at home…. just saying. I asked for a side of Irish Soda Bread, which was delicious but not quite as good as my own recipe. Of course, I am a bit biased.
While eating, a couple, probably in their sixties, stood behind us. With the limited standing space in the place, most people eating had one or two people standing behind them waiting to swoop in when they were finished. I tried to awkwardly ignore them, hurry up and eat, but then the the chattier, ale driven side of me won out and decided to say hi instead. They were actually just ordering two types of whisky from the bar: a Jameson and something else I could not hear because it was so loud from people celebrating. Curse the Irish enthusiasm. The couple tried both glasses, said they tasted about the same. Then they wished us a happy St. Patrick’s Day and left. I guess their yearly tradition was to stop in and have a glass of whiskey and begone. Seems appropriate, and once again and I met another great couple that already felt like family.
Dessert was white chocolate bread pudding with whiskey cream. The fish and chips were good, but dessert was amazing. I love bread pudding in all its forms, but when they add alcohol to it, I don’t know, it just becomes magical. It was comforting, flavorful, slightly boozy, and of course sweet all at the same time. While we ate, we chatted with one of the many barkeeps who were gearing up for the South Bend city tent party that would start later around in the afternoon. She admitted it was a bit crazy, but also fun, which was a good sum of the day so far. I imagine it would be a good day for tips, too. I commented on her makeup, since I was secretly jealous of her awesome eye shadow, which looked like two Irish flags. I never knew you could do that. But at least I had the three foot Irish Seuss hat on my head, so I guess it’s all good.
When our time came to leave, someone was already hovering next to us to move in. I sighed, because my Irish celebrating at the Hearth had come to an end too fast. I really felt like I was leaving a holiday get together rather than just having lunch. We dutifully passed off the hats to the new bearers of our seats, so that we could continue the Irish tradition started by our earlier friends. I hope the next people who wore the Irish hats had the same fantastic time we had. With some new friends, great food, and a fancy hat ( and maybe a little ale), the luck of the Irish can be found.