A traditional Irish menu usually combines the hearty and the light — chives and potatoes, corned beef and vegetables.
All of these flavors and more can be found at The Bistro at The Oaks in Gainesville for three afternoons and one night. An Irish menu will be served at lunchtime Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and 5:30-9 p.m. Friday. Diners can feast on a four-course meal with slight variations occurring throughout the week.
“The menu changes,” said culinary teacher and Bistro chef Chris Mitas, who educates students at Hall County’s Lanier Charter Career Academy. “It’s tweaked through the week. Our customers give feedback, and we go off of that. It teaches our students flexibility.”
Academy students staff the Bistro, learning to prepare and cook a wide range of dishes in a professional kitchen. This week Irish food is on the menu to mark St. Patrick’s Day.
The first course is a bowl filled with freshly harvested, washed and lightly salted vegetables on a bed of ice, a dish also known as a crudité. Accompanying it is a smaller bowl of chive cream in the center for dipping. The vegetables are reaped from the horticulture class, Mitas said.
Radishes and baby carrots are two of the vegetables plucked directly from the school’s garden. The snow peas, snap peas, fennel, cauliflower, asparagus and haricot vert (green beans) are served unseasoned and raw.
The first course is served family style and is prepared to be perfect for passing around the table.
“You eat with your family, so we wanted to recreate that (with these dishes),” Mitas said.
The second course will feature a split pea and ham soup, which is poured tableside.
The soup is probably the greenest item on the menu, but Mitas didn’t design the menu with the traditional St. Patrick’s Day color in mind.
“Peas are in season, so you’re going to have peas,” Mitas said. “Flavor precedes colors.”
Joining the soup will be fried ham pieces, sour cream, chives, fresh pea tendrils, a fresh herb salad, pearl onions and wheat bread croutons.
The next entrée will be a shepherd’s pie, also known as cottage pie. The dish is made of stacked braised beef and lamb discs on a bed of smashed peas with lemon and mint and pickled pearl onions. A few dollops of “champ,” a traditional Irish dish made with mashed potatoes and chives, will be layered on top.
Mitas said he chowed down on this particular dish as a child.
“My mom’s dad is Irish, so it’s kind of what I grew up eating,” Mitas said. “It’s some of the same flavors.”
For dessert, Mitas has whipped up a strawberry and chamomile plate. The dessert is made with a chamomile panna cotta topped with a strawberry meringue with whipped cream and strawberry sauce. Honey powder and fresh strawberries are added.
While both afternoon and evening patrons enjoy these foods, the Friday night customers get to sample extras.
In addition to the vegetable bowl during the first course, dinner guests will taste a salmon rillette made with sour cream and mayonnaise and served with Irish brown bread. The rillette, a thick spread served in small glass jars, can be dolloped onto grilled or toasted bread. Dill oil, dill and lemon zest are added for extra flavor.
Another dish reserved for night guests is the chef’s take on a Reuben sandwich. The Reuben’s meat will be served inside a glass case and removed at the table to release a small plume of smoke.
“We will use a smoking gun, which will add the smoked flavor (to the beef),” Mitas said.
The fresh seared corned beef will be served with a sauerkraut mousse, pickled mustard seeds, pickled red onions, rye crackers and a Thousand Island dressing.
Lastly, attendees will be served a second dessert of Irish cream cake. The cake is a vanilla almond with butterscotch filling and cream cheese frosting. It will be topped with a Bailey’s Irish Cream soak and meringue.
“Since it’s a school, the alcohol part will be cooked at home,” Mitas said.
The Friday service is part of The Bistro at the Oaks’ open house night to allow guests to tour the Lanier Charter Career Academy facilities.
“We are trying to be an employer for the kids, to help them get jobs through experience,” said David Moody, executive director of the academy and leadership development.
The open house tour will feature The Bistro, the Corner Cafe, Design 360, Reflections Salon & Spa, and the campus farmer’s market.