Two hours after Kinnee O’Reilly’s Irish Pub opened to the public on Wednesday, Nathan Truka of Placerville emerged with a smile on his face and confessed, “I’m not sure what a real Irish pub is supposed to be like, but this feels like a good one.”
Like Truka, most of us have never been to Ireland, or set foot in a genuine Irish pub. So what makes a good one? Dave and Betsy Wohler think they know.
Kinnee OReilly’s is their baby. It’s situated in El Dorado Hills’ Montano retail center at the southwest corner of White Rock and Latrobe Roads. During the inaugural lunch on Wednesday, the newborn got universally strong reviews.
Ken Jardine of El Dorado Hills dug into a grilled chicken salad and shared a generous bowl of “Colcannon,” a traditional Irish potato and kale dish, with his wife Joanne. He admitted that he’d been so eager for the opening that he’d snuck into the pre-openings on Monday and Tuesday. His critique: “Good food, good beer; I’ll be back.”
Waterford resident Steve Weatherholt enjoyed Shepherd’s pie with a bottle of provocatively named “Kilt Lifter” Scotch Ale. His neighbor Kirsten Dieter praised the Guinness chocolate mousse.
The pub serves lunch and dinner seven days a week, opening at 11:30 a.m. daily, closing at midnight Sunday through Thursday, 2 a.m. on weekends.
Betsy Wohler said the idea for the pub was born in a long lunch in the Irish pub at Squaw Valley with family and friends in 2003. “We had a bunch of kids with us and everyone loved it,” she said. “Nobody wanted to leave.”
The proprietor lauded the idea of a similar pub in El Dorado Hills, and suggested the Wohlers investigate the Irish Pub Concept, published free by Guinness at Website irishpubconcept.com.
“We checked it out and this place has been our dream ever since,” said Betsy. “We talked about it all these years and assumed someone would do it by now.”
But no one has, “So here we are,” she said.
“Where they are” is a prime corner location in Vinal Perkins’ Montano de El Dorado, with Pottery World across the parking lot and another popular eatery/drinkery, Relish Burger Bar, a block away.
“We talked to Richard (Righton, Relish proprietor) before we started,” said Betsy. “It’s been very friendly.”
The Wohlers hired Guinness-approved restaurant consultant Donal Ballance to guide them through the process. Betsy described the Irish Pub Concept as a series of suggestions rather than a formula. “It’s a vehicle to convey Irish hospitality and comfort,” she said, “more of a way of thinking than strict rules.”
Kinnee O’Reilly’s interior features the signature dark paneling, mustard-yellow walls and intimate nooks and crannies found in authentic pubs. There’s even a “library” room. In a modest departure from the pub tradition of dank, dark interiors, Kinnee O’Reilly’s entire restaurant and bar area enjoys natural light from windows on two sides during the day.
O’Reilly’s seats 180 inside and 60-or-so on a side patio. The library room doubles as a private dining area, and can be closed off from the main space for parties.
Chef Todd Alsworth was previously the executive chef for the Waxy O’Connor’s Irish Pub Group in Massachusetts.
Alsworth’s menu includes Irish favorites including fish & chips and mulligan stew. Many of the appetizers and sides are equally authentic, including soda bread, “mushy peas” and “Scotch Eggs,” a hard-boiled egg wrapped in pork sausage, dipped in beer batter then deep fried. Try one before you pass judgment.
The sandwiches make creative use of fresh ingredients. The Reuben is stuffed full of house-cured corned beef. The grilled vegetable sandwich will appeal to the meat-adverse. Steaks, seafood, pork and lamb entreés are available for the rest of us.
The menu has ample vegetarian and gluten-free options, including several salads and soups. A full children’s menu is also available.
A dozen brews are available on tap, including Smithwick’s (pronounced “Smitix” on this side of the pond, and “Shithix” over there) and Kilkenny, which day-one bar patron Martin Rowinski and bartender Meg Gonsalves mixed in equal parts to create “the KillSmith,” so named by Rowinski, who’s returned several times to further explore and promote his invention.
But the defining brew in a true Irish pub is Guinness Stout, which any O’Reilly bartender will tell you was first brewed by Arthur Guinness in 1778. The roasted, slightly sweet flavor, creamy head and malty aftertaste of Guinness Stout is known and loved worldwide.
A proper pint of Guinness requires clean glassware and clean beer plumbing, the hoses between the kegs and the tap. The barrels must be fresh, and stored at 38 degrees, pressurized just 30 pounds by an exact mix of 75 percent nitrogen and 25 percent CO2.
While more expensive than conventional compressed air setups, the mixed-gas produces smaller bubbles and less carbonation, resulting in a less filling pint, thus preventing the dreaded “beer bloat.”
The all-important two-part Guinness pour requires a full 90 seconds. The first two-thirds are poured first, and must settle before being topped off, resulting in the signature creamy foam “head,” served not at room temperature, but a precise 44 degrees.
The bar is stocked with 40-or-so whiskeys, including Irish and Scotch single malts. A varied wine list and an ample non-alcoholic beverage selection round out the bar menu.
The Wohlers have no direct restaurant or bar experience, but both have approached the project with a pragmatism and entrepreneurial spirit they believe will make them successful. No one’s arguing with them right now.
Dave Wohler, 41, oversees the “back of the house,” as the business’s CEO. He previously worked as a pool contractor, and spent portions of his career in the retail and health services industries.
Betsy Wohler, 45, runs the “front of the house,” as president and general manager of restaurant operations. She was previously a veterinarian technician for 15 years and also worked briefly at the neighboring Bella Talloni shoe store.
She credits her belated restaurant career to her father, who encouraged her to take a restaurant job right out of high school, arguing that “if I had that experience under my belt I’d always be employable,” she said.
It took Betsy a few more years to get that experience. To prepare for a career as a pub matron, she took a job as a “busser” in a Granite Bay restaurant. Over the next several weeks she worked as hostess, server and assistant manager, soaking up the principles of restaurant operations at each step of the way.
Now she’s the one doing the hiring, starting with Kalani Pananganan, the Hawaiian-Irish general manager who the Wohlers have renamed “Killarney,” after the town in Ireland. All told, the Wohlers have hired 32 servers, 11 bar staff and seven hostesses, so far.
Opening week tested the Wohlers’ mettle. Betsy estimated that at least one, often both of them, was at the restaurant 21 hours a day through Friday. Her hours would have been greater, she said, except that she spends a little after-school time each day with her daughters Megan, and Taylor, 11 and 13, respectively, “so they don’t think they’ve been abandoned.”
Kinnee O’Reilly’s is a beacon of light in the current dark economic climate as the Wohlers are providing jobs and stimulating the local economy.
Within a few days of their quiet opening, word of the new Irish pub leaked out. The place was at capacity by 4:30 Friday afternoon, with dinner patrons waiting 25 minutes for a table, according to effervescent Pananganan, who added ,“But it’s all good. We’re shaking it down and having a blast.”
An expanded parking area is being added east of Montano. Meanwhile, valet parking is available at the door. Reservations are suggested for groups of eight or more. The full bar and food menu is available on the pub’s website: kinneeoreillys.com.