Well, it’s year- end now and I’ve officially gone over 50,000 hits with this little blog of mine (17,000 of which come from the last year)! Woohoo! I know that’s not saying much – a lot of folks get that many hits in a day! But for me, who began this blog in 2008 as a way to keep in touch with family and friends, I’m blown away by that kind of readership. So, thank you!
As an additional thanks to the town in which I live, the lovely, quirky, medieval Drogheda, I’m going to share a list of my favourite shops, restaurants etc. from the village that gave me Frank and brought me here to begin with. So here they are, in no particular order – the “Best View Awards 2011” from View From an Irish Back Yard.
* These shops got the nod because they’re all doing something a little different than everywhere else in town, and they stand out for the quality, service and tenacity to keep going in a tough economy! I hope you’ll patronize them whenever you can.
1. Rouge Boutique – I’ve mentioned them before, but Rouge still remains my favourite dress shop in town. In the last year they’ve been open, they’ve really fine-tuned the designers and products they sell, making sure their items are well-made, unique and reasonably priced. They have also just remodeled the premises, with a beautiful spa downstairs and a bigger clothing shop on the second floor.
3. Highlanes Gallery Gift Shop (Louth Craftmark) – Things in this shop are a bit more pricey, but it’s because they’re bespoke creations from local artists. I am in love with the pottery here, as well as the fine knitted shawls and scarfs, felted hats and purses and, my favourite, some gorgeous embroidered silk mixed media paintings. Love.
4. The Gift Box – This store is truly a gem. It’s definitely geared to the feminine disposition, but it’s filled corner to corner with lovely, quality dishes, mirrors, art, jewelry, candles and other decorative objects. You’d think with all that merchandise, it would feel cluttered, but the ladies who run The Gift Box have fantastic taste and a great talent for displaying their wares appropriately. Walking in, you might expect to pay a small fortune, but no, the prices are extremely reasonable and there are even sales throughout the year to aid the wallet.
5. Cake Couture – I so wish this shop had been around when I was making my wedding cake in 2008! I could have received some great advice and bought everything I needed without having to make multiple trips to Dublin! So glad Cake Couture came to town, even if a little late.
1. Mary’s Market Cafe – If I’m going out for breakfast in Drogheda, and I mean real breakfast, not just a scone and tea, there’s only one place I want to go and this is it. Affordable, great food from Full Irish fry-ups to French Toast to massive omelets and pretty darn good coffee, too. A cheerful staff keep me coming back with my business time after time.
Best Lunch Hideouts
1. West 29 at the Westcourt Hotel – We had our staff Christmas lunch here this year, and let me tell you, I was blown away! The Westcourt recently revamped their entire image, and while the decor is a bit flashy for my taste, the food was without fault. West 29, a.k.a. the “restolounge,” is located in what used to be a cafeteria-style room where you’d get the usual Irish fare – scones, muffins, tea, coffee, all OK but nothing to rave about. Now, however, I think the Drogheda biddies would never recognize it as the same place – the room is lushly covered in jungle wallpaper and posh upholstery with food that surpasses anything I’ve had for lunch in a long time. I look forward to going back to West 29 for more special occasions soon!
2. Stockwell Artisan Cafe – This has long been a favourite stop for Frank, Evelyn and me. While a second location opened recently, we still prefer the tiny original cafe on Stockwell Street where we’re greeted as friends and can enjoy good food in a cozy atmosphere. They also stock a lot of locally made hampers and food items for sale.
3. Bia – Drogheda is not known for its salads or stir-frys… or veggie dishes in general, unless you’re looking for spuds! But Bia is a great spot to hit up if you’re looking for a big bowl of either. The prices are reasonable, it’s a good place for kids and it’s bright and clean. Nice one.
Best Dinner Dates
1. Scholar’s Townhouse Hotel – Frank and I love heading to the cozy bar in Scholar’s on a regular basis, but it wasn’t until this weekend when we finally got to have dinner in the restaurant. Wow. It was amazing! Expensive, yes, but I think good cooking is always worth the price if you’re looking for it. We felt very fancy indeed, all dressed up and being escorted into the grand dining room where the waiter held my chair and we ordered delicacies like roast pigeon breast and pan-seared venison. I could go on and on about how wonderful this meal was (except for the part where I accidentally flung my earring through the air and watched it roll under the foot of the gentlemen sitting to our right)… but I’ve got a lot more writing to do. Short version – can’t wait to go back.
2. The Salthouse– It’s certainy not the quietest spot in town, but you’re sure to have a fun night out when owner (and friend!) Justin Stubbs is hosting, one of the stand-by musicians like Paddy McCardle or Johnny Crean is playing, and the girls in the kitchen have their sleeves rolled up to whip out some amazing food. Frank and I took my uncle to the Salthouse just last month and I had the most lovely Monkfish entree ever. All locally sourced, of course. They also do a lovely lunch (including above-mentioned stir frys and salads which are lacking in town), but I didn’t want them to hog all the categories. We’ve spent many special occasions at the Salthouse, including our wedding rehearsal dinner, and we always end up there when friends or family are in town.
3. The Eastern Seaboard Bar & Grill– This place is always booked out, and there’s a good reason why! It feels like a spot you’d frequent in New York or San Francisco, not the outskirts of Drogheda! The food has never disappointed me yet and is surprisingly good value for the level of quality. Again, not always the quietest place for a meal, but sure to be a treat.
4. d’Vine Wine Bar & Restaurant – Even though d’Vine has recently moved to a larger location, it’s still a charming and cozy spot for a romantic evening. Good for steaks and pasta especially. The wines have been meticiulously chosen – of course – and it’s great to see the owners, Sonia and Damian, running around the place, waving hellos and suggesting the perfect pairings for your meals. They also serve the world’s best coffee – Ariosa, roasted right in the next county.
Best Places to Buy Fresh Meat and Produce for Home
1. Organic Delights stall at the Friday Market on West Street – I don’t think I have ever seen people more passionate about their fruit and veg than the folks who run this stall on Fridays. They love what the do and what they represent and they truly want to share it with you! How many times have I casually walked past, taken the sample offered and ended up bringing home an armload of delicious fresh produce? These guys have a gift, both in growing and selling quality eats.
2. Tuite’s Butchers – Drogheda is spoilt for choice when it comes to butchers, and the beef and lamb in this country are especially legendary. However, I find Tuite’s to be just that tiny bit better than the other butchers I’ve patronized. All the guys behind the counter are really helpful and will even advise you how to cook your meat, should you need such instruction. I’ll never forget how they pulled out all the stops to get me a shoulder of pork last minute when I was making BBQ pulled pork for Frank’s film crew. Plus, their meat has never disappointed – always fresh, tender and delicious. They also do a lot for the town and for charity – in my book, that makes them even cooler.
3. Kirwan’s Fishmongers – Kirwan’s is actually the “last man standing” when it comes to fishmongers in town, which is a real shame considering how close we are to the coast! However, they’re also the best at what they do and they have a great selection of wonderful fishy goodness every day. They got me to buy Hake over Cod one time, and I’ve never looked back.
4. McDonnell’s Centra – OK, don’t laugh, because I know this is a totally random one! But this tiny neighbourhood grocery (just around the corner from us) supplies the basics plus a lot of fresh, hard-to-find ingredients that you just can’t get anywhere else. I always know if I’m stuck for fresh herbs, salad leaves, fruit, Irish cheeses or even good meat and fish, McDonnell’s will be open.
Best Food on the Go
1. Guilio’s on Narrow West Street – best chips, hands down.
2. Hurley Bros. on Narrow West Street – the friendly folks in Hurley Bros. will throw together a great fresh sandwich in record time for next to nothing… perfect for us when we’re heading down to the ramparts for a picnic. It’s a kind of local institution!
1. Naomi’s Muffins – A fellow Yankee, Naomi bakes up some lovely treats, including Lemon Blueberry Scones and positively sinful Brownies! You’ll find her goods at local coffee shops as well as Butler’s Chocolate Cafe in the Dublin airport. She also occasionally has a booth in the Friday Market on West Street.
2. Julie Anne’s Cakes – She’s famous in town for her ANZAC biscuits and gluten-free and sugar-free treats. You can find her confections at several area coffee shops and she frequents the local outdoor markets, too.
3. McCloskey’s Bakery – Say what you will, they make the best Brown Soda Bread in town and a pretty yummy Tipsy Cake, too! Evelyn and I love to take little lunch dates here and share a gooey cake at the end.
Best Places to Go for Tea or Coffee (and Cake, of course!)
1. Simona Cafe – I love these guys. The owners are a married couple who emigrated from Italy with their whole family and they are just so sweet and welcoming! They’ve sourced quality artisan ingredients for this little restaurant and they keep it simple and delicious. Even if you request a simple espresso and an Italian biscuit, the food and drink arrive in style on a plate pile high with fresh cream.
2. Harper’s on the Quay – This spot just opened before Christmas and Frank and I only went in once, so the jury is still out in terms of the actual coffee and cake! But I love love love the atmosphere and the stylish decor. It’s the type of place I’d love to frequent when I have an afternoon to myself (wait a minute, who am I fooling?). I hope they just get better and better.
3. The Copper Kettle – This lovely little shop is a Drogheda standard. Frank said when he was growing up it was owned by “a couple of grannies,” but now it’s run by some lovely ladies from Eastern Europe, and still remains a town favourite. It is one of the few restaurants located on a second floor level, so you get a great view of Peter Street/Shop Street from the window. The tea, scones and food are always top notch and we love to catch up with the owners when we bring Evey up for a bite.
1. Drogheda Christmas Bonanza, November – to my knowledge, this was the first-ever Christmas Bonanza in Drogheda. There are always small parades and events leading up to Christmas (as Santa arrives at all the different shopping centres!), but this one was really really fun. It started on a Wednesday evening with loads of food, carolers, musicians, a parade, and even Christmas films projected on the wall across from St. Peters. We had a great time and I hope they make it a local tradition.
2. Drogheda Arts Festival, April/May – If the weather holds, the Arts Fest is always good craic. Food and art stalls line up along Fair Street and there are all kinds of things going on around town for people of all ages. Good to see the arts living a healthy life in this town.
3. St. Paddy’s Day Parade and Fun Fair – What would an Irish town be without its own Paddy’s Day festivities? This is, of course, a great local event that showcases the schools and services in a big parade and it seems like everyone comes out and puts their heart into it! The fun fair is small, but it offers an additional diversion to what otherwise would be a pretty dull time of year. Slainte!