St. Patrick’s Day, and it’s a great day for the Irish.
It’s also a great day for corned beef sandwiches.
“They’re just delicious. They taste good and they’re a great way to celebrate the holiday,” said J.P. Maloney, who owns Katie O’Byrne’s restaurant in downtown Schenectady. “Our Reubens [made with corned beef] are our biggest seller, and instead of sauerkraut we’ll put cabbage on them that day.”
The patron saint of Ireland will be remembered with prayers and celebrated with toasts as the Capital Region prepares for spring. Restaurants are prepared to serve hundreds of corned beef dinners, complete with cabbage, potatoes and carrots.
And while most people enjoy the tangy taste of corned beef, some are not all that crazy about boiled cabbage. “Some people may not like the corned beef and cabbage dinner, said Andrew Schneider, a senior cook at Katie O’Byrne’s. “But people like corned beef, rye bread and condiments in whatever way they prefer.”
Schneider said for corned beef, home cooking is the best place to start. All O’Byrne’s briskets are cooked in house with two types of beer, brown sugar and a few secret ingredients.
Sandwiches and full corned beef dinners will also be on the menu at Schenectady’s Manhattan Exchange. Owner Debbie Lamalfa said she’ll sell a lot more dinner plates, but will still get customers who want just the quick corned beef bite. Like other places, Lamalfa’s corned beef briskets are all cooked on site.
“Normally, they’ll just ask for mustard on them,” Lamalfa said of the sandwiches. “Some like them with lettuce and tomatoes. Some get it heated, some want it cold. We serve them with our deli potato salad, macaroni salad, whatever they choose. . . . I think they’re for people who don’t like cabbage, truthfully.”
Corned beef sandwiches, and other St. Patrick’s Day foods, will be available during lunch and dinner at Hibernian Hall in Schenectady.
“At lunch we serve corned beef sandwiches with cabbage on a roll, typically served with chips on the side,” said Michael Glenn, a longtime member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in an email. “At dinnertime, not only are sandwiches popular, but so are corned beef and cabbage dinners, sometimes offered with colcannon on the side — a potato-cabbage-leek combination.
Glenn said corned beef is not a traditional Irish meal. “It found its way there for St. Patrick’s Day only in the last few decades from America, but immigrants from Ireland discovered corned beef as a good substitute for bacon, which is popular with cabbage in a traditional Irish meal,” Glenn said. “So not really traditionally Irish, it is a favorite for Irish Americans.”
Glenn can even explain the name.
“Corned beef is a tough piece of meat made easier to eat by curing with corns of salt,” he said. “Many cultures have corned beef in its menus, including British, Jewish and Caribbean cultures. There certainly are other Irish favorites — lamb stew, shepherd’s pie, soda bread — that are consumed through the year. But it’s not what you eat, but who you eat it with and how much you enjoy all that.”
Some restaurants add their own twists to the sandwich place.
“You have to toast the bread,” said Margie Schulz, general manager of the Raindancer restaurant in Amsterdam. “People traditionally come here for the corned beef, and if somebody wants a sandwich, we’re more than happy to make one for them.”
Evan Christou, who owns Tops American Grill in Rotterdam, said corned beef is on his menu year-roud. The sandwiches get orders, he said, because of their solid reputation.
“I think it’s a New York deli classic,” Christou said. “We’re known for our deli sandwiches. A big dinner with corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and carrots might not appeal to everybody, but a nice sandwich on deli rye bread, I think, appeals to somebody who wants an authentic deli sandwich.”
And if people like deli corned beef, every Thursday is St. Patrick’s Day at Tops — the sandwich, served with pickles and french fries, is a special each Thursday.
Christou added that deli or spicy mustards are popular toppers for the corned beef. He won’t throw anyone out of the place if they ask for a bottle of ketchup for their sandwiches. “If they like corned beef, they can do whatever makes them happy,” Christou said.
Corned beef will be served all day at the Scotia Diner on Mohawk Avenue — dinners and sandwiches.
“You want it for breakfast, you can have it for breakfast,” said Anita Kyratzis, who owns the restaurant. “You want it for lunch, you can have it for lunch. You want it for dinner, you can have it for dinner.”
Kyratzis said tradition could be the motivating factor for the dining rush.
“I think it’s just due to the nationality and the day,” she said. “A lot of people show up for the Irish day.”
By Monday afternoon, Kyratzis had already received five corned beef orders for Tuesday pick-up. She expects to keep selling corned beef through the rest of the year.
“People still come in for the Reubens,” she said. “There has to be some magical ingredient in corned beef they like.”