Penn State playing football in Ireland means that I must do my best to explore the culture of the homeland.
Which means I was driven to find a top-shelf Irish breakfast.
Because, like I always say about Penn State road trips, since everyone has to eat, it might as well be an adventure. And so a recommendation took photographer Jason Plotkin and I to Bewley’s Grafton Street Café in the heart of Dublin.
Getting there involved walking past new Aviva Stadium, the glass and steel structure that looks like a harp on its side. It meant meeting Penn State fans from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on the train platform on our way downtown.
It meant walking on narrow streets where cars and double-decked buses fly around curves on the left side of the road and everyone’s front door seems to be painted one bright color or another.
It was a gorgeous, sunny morning. Wednesday here felt like late-October in State College. Thursday felt like a bowl game in Tampa, Florida. Every stone stone wall on a winding street that guarded some tightly-fitted cottages reminded me of the movie, Billy Elliot.
Finally, it was time for breakfast.
Bewley’s Café is known as Dublin’s largest (400 seats), oldest (1927) and busiest (1 million customers a year). Manager Sean Duffy told stories of the restaurant’s stunning history in regards to the tea and coffee trades. He talked about those brilliant hand-painted stained glass windows adorning the dining room that are more than 80 years old.
Of course, we came for the food.
Things started with perfectly-designed, art-topped cups of cappuccinos. No sugar was needed, Duffy explained, because the milk is of such high quality. And the milk is so good because of the cows that produce it. And the cows are so special because of the “grass and the rain” and …
The highlight, though, was the “full Irish breakfast.” It’s a top-seller with at least a few thousand served here every week.
It included potato farl (a pancake), grilled ham, sausage, a tomato half, tiny mushrooms, a poached egg and two slices of toast. It was accompanied by fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Everything is grilled so it is healthier, Duffy explained with a straight face, and we wanted to believe him. We also added a giant, made-in-house fruit scone, another Bewley special.
But the plate’s Tour de force was the traditional black and white pudding. The blood pudding. Those two petite, innocent-looking dollops, almost resembling tiny pastries.
I had heard of this stuff. I pretty much could guess what it was made of, but I didn’t really want to know. I felt compelled to try it because I was in Ireland and that’s what you do when you’re in Ireland, right?
Fortunately, Duffy declined to describe the exact ingredients for fear of leaking a secret recipe.Even when unfamiliar tourists learn just the pudding basics, “some of them are a bit perturbed,” he said. “That’s why I don’t tell what’s in it. The tastes tells it.
“But they are absolutely gorgeous. I guarantee you, absolutely delicious.”
And my bites, I must admit, were just that. They were reminiscent of sausages or scrapple with mild spices. The texture revealed some type of grains added to the mixture.
The plate, in its entirety, was filling but not overwhelming. The tastes were matched well.
And the conversation with Duffy and his staff was just as satisfying. We eventually got around to discussing plates of unknown grilled meats from Austria.
But, soon enough, it was time to leave. There were fans to interview and souvenir shops to gawk at and double-decked buses to avoid.
There was a football team to cover, too. A squad full of 20-year-olds who were mostly eating simple dishes of chicken, rice and vegetables here because they are 20-year-olds and also because we keep being reminded how this is a “business trip.”
No need to risk sensitive stomachs on truly native foods.
That, however, is for them.
We, on the other hand, are inspired to be culinary adventurers. If anything, I now know that when you are in Dublin, “pudding” almost surely should be included in breakfast.
No matter that I still don’t want to know exactly what’s inside.