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Corned beef and cabbage a St. Patrick’s Day staple in Petaluma

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As March 17 quickly approaches, the corned beef options around Petaluma are almost to the point where we might want to think about making Saint Patrick’s Day a weeklong celebration. From restaurants to food trucks to do-it-yourself options, corned beef lovers can rejoice over this simple yet tasty dish, and all the great left-overs that come from it.

Saint Patrick is the foremost patron saint of Ireland, and is credited with converting the pagans of Northern Ireland to Christianity. Commonly regarded as having rid Ireland of snakes, that is actually an allegory for his efforts against the druids, as fossil evidence proves that Ireland has never had snakes. During the last ice age, the Emerald Isle was too cold for reptiles and a lack of a land bridge to England and Europe meant that snakes never had a chance to migrate in.

Officially known as “Saint Patrick’s Day”, it is often shortened to St. “Paddy’s” Day, but never “Patty,” as that is the shortened version of the name Patricia, not Patrick. If “St. Patty’s Day” is your thing, I suggest heading over to Naples, which is Saint Patricia’s burial site, and where they honor her each August 25 with a celebration.

Although the most celebrated national festival around the world, you are unlikely to find corned beef and cabbage on the menu for Saint Patrick’s Day dinner in Ireland. However, do not be dissuaded or dismayed by those know-it-alls who point out that corned beef and cabbage is not an Irish tradition, because they are only partial correct. Corned beef and cabbage is a rich part of our Irish-American heritage.

Irish immigrants of the past two centuries lived, worked, and dined alongside New York City Jews, which is where they were first introduced to corned beef. Pork was the meat of choice in their native land; however, in the new world it was prohibitively expensive. Cured similar to their beloved Irish bacon, corned beef was a cheap alternative to pork. A cheaper alternative to potatoes, cabbage was cooked in the same pot as the meat, and so took on the desirable salty beef flavor.

If you do fancy a visit to Ireland to witness a traditional St. Paddy’s Day, an absolute must-visit restaurant is l’Ecrivain. Not your standard Irish fare, this Michelin starred restaurants exposes Irish flavors to a French treatment, and in exquisite fashion. Our lunch at l’Ecrivain ranks as one of the top two or three meals we have ever had, and all our future trips to Europe will fly through Dublin, specifically so we can revisit l’Ecrivain. lecrivain.com

CB&C Feeds

Leading off the Corned Beef and Cabbage season is the Penngrove Social Fireman’s March 10 feed. Serving dinner from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Penngrove Clubhouse, tickets are $15 for adults ($7.50 for kids under 12) and are available at JavAmore Café. We have been attending this feed for years and always enjoy the corned beef, as well as the $1 desserts offered by the local 4-H Club, as well as the raffle. For $1 per ticket, you get into the running for a $200, $100, and $50 Visa gift card.

The following weekend, the Elks Lodge #901 holds their St. Paddy’s Day feed on Saturday, March 17, starting at 6 p.m., with a live performance by Irish dancers. Tickets are $20 per person, and will sell out fast.

Restaurant Fare

Our local restaurants have really stepped up to the plate when it comes to offering corned beef specials, starting with Crocodile, serving corned short ribs with fingerling potatoes and a sweet and sour cabbage. I have had both their short ribs and their sweet and sour cabbage soup before, so can attest to the fact that words cannot do these justice.

Thanks to fellow Petaluma Foodie Sharon McKillop Monticello for tipping me off to the Aquarium’s corned beef dinner. She says it is so amazing that she was hesitant to even speak up because each year it gets more and more crowded.

Where better to get corned beef than at McNear’s, where they have what I believe was the first place in Petaluma to have Guinness on tap. Owner Ken O’Donnell tells me that as luck would have it, and Petaluma certainly is lucky to have McNear’s, when they re-opened back in 1989, it was actually on St. Paddy’s Day. They have been perfecting their corned beef ever since and spend three weeks each year making sure it is just right. “We never rush ours,” says Kenny. “If it isn’t perfect, we won’t serve it.”

Pongo’s Kitchen & Tap will serve corned beef all weekend, while it lasts, along with live music by Frank O’Connor at the piano bar starting at 8:30 p.m. on March 17, with the kitchen staying open until 9:45 p.m..

Sarah’s Eats and Sweets special for the week is pulled corned beef sandwiches with cabbage slaw and aioli. They will also be serving a whiskey glazed corned beef and cabbage plate, with carrots and potatoes, as well as Irish ale and cheddar soup.

Pub Republic has always had great slow cooked dishes and surely their slow braised corned beef brisket, apple sautéed red cabbage, roasted red potatoes, creamy mustard sauce, Guinness Irish caviar will wow those lucky enough to order it.

Chef Matthew Elias of The Bodega – CA food truck promises to incorporate corned beef into some “fun street food situation”, so keep an eye on their Facebook page for their menu and location, as they change daily. He also plans to offer a “bubble and squeak,” as well as a couple other Irish dishes.

Lisa Shatnawi of the Palm’s Grill will be offering corned beef brisket and cabbage with potatoes, caramelized onions, and baby carrots for Saint Patrick’s Day.

Reader Kat Hopkins also gave me the heads up that the Willowbrook Alehouse will have a lunch and dinner corned beef special on Saturday too.

The ladies at Sax’s Joint will be running some corned beef specials too, and trust me when I tell you that they know how prepare some great down-home country comfort meals.

Rumor has it that Petaluma Pie is creating a corned beef and cabbage pasty/hand pie especially for St. Paddy’s Day. I would also suspect that TAPS will run some sort of corned beef dish on their Thursday night special menu, as Chef Abe is always getting creative with his dishes.

If you want to avoid the mess of cooking it yourself, but do not want to leave the house, a pre-order with Chef Laura Longuevan Lee (cheflauralee.com) will have her delivering Guinness braised cabbage, killer corned beef, boiled red pots and mustard right to your front door, along with a recipe for making hash with the leftovers.

Because Bellyfull Dinners are only available during the week, their tender and juicy slow-braised corned beef, with buttered cabbage and carrots or creamy home style mashed potatoes is available on Friday, March 16.

Do it yourself

A few years back, I decided to corn my own beef, and although educational, it was quite expensive to get all the spices together, was time consuming, and did not produce anything special, especially considering there are great corned beef options available already.

Since that time, it is not unusual for us to purchase 12 corned beefs from Petaluma Market, so we are set for the whole year. Department manager Travis Miller and his crew receive voluminous praise for all they do behind the meat counter, with their March exclusive corned beef being one of the highlights. Using a 20 year old secret recipe, it takes 15 days to brine their briskets. The offer two cuts, but we prefer the more flavorful (fatty) traditional brisket, which at only $4.99 per pound, is less than most pre-packaged corned beef. Petaluma Market comes close to selling out on pre-orders alone, which is impressive considering they sell over 2,000 pounds of corned beef each St. Paddy’s Day season. Petaluma Market’s hot buffet will also be Irish heavy from Friday, March 16 thru Sunday, March 18, with corned beef, Irish bangers, Guinness braised pork stew, and all the veggies to match.

Stemple Creek Ranch also offers their special grass fed and finished corned beef. They cure their premium round in a special blend of traditional Irish seasonings made by Roberts Corned Meats. Roberts is family owned and operated is the oldest corned beef company in San Francisco, tracing their beginnings all the way back to 1910. Visit StempleCreek.com to place your order for this very limited delicacy.

As far as cooking your butcher sourced corned beef, there are ton of great recipes online, so experiment until you find what works best for your family. We usually crockpot ours, with either a rye beer, or a bottle of ruby port wine. Although Guinness always works well, we find the rye beer adds a more unique flavor. And the ruby port leaves us with three distinctly different sections of corned beef – the sweet, almost charred outer layer, a soft purple port flavored middle layer, and straight up corned beef flavor in the middle. Having been told about cooking corned beef in cider, we are going to give that a try to, experimenting with local ciders from Tilted Shed, Golden State, and Ethic Cider.

Local TV celebrity chef Laurie Figone offers up an unconventional way of cooking your corned beef in her cookbook Cooking with Laurie Figone. All you need is a corned beef and a half-cup of your favorite hot sauce. In her case, she sticks local, with her favorite – F.A. Nino’s Mango Habanero, but we are going to try our favorite, which is F.A. Nino’s Smokin’ Green. She wraps the corned beef in foil, with veggies of her choice, and bakes it for 3 ½ hours. This is a much shorter cook time than crock-potting, and there is no mess to clean up at the end. For the full recipe, and many more, visit lauriesfood.com.

It was not until someone posted an inquiry to the Petaluma Foodies page on Facebook that I realized just how many local restaurants and markets go out of their way to make sure there are plenty of delicious and creative corned beef options available to us around St. Paddy’s Day each year, whether we want to eat out or dine in. Slainte!