Nothing says "St. Patrick's Day" in America like a plate full of corned beef, cabbage, carrots and potatoes.
But a plate full of corned beef, cabbage, carrots and potatoes says nothing in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day.
Capital Region true Irish will enjoy the hearty springtime meal this week, but they know corned beef is an American tradition.
Tom Lawrence, president of the Schenectady Ancient Order of Hibernians, JFK Division 1, said new Irish immigrants in New York City began carving corned beef on St. Patrick's Day around the turn of the 20th century. The day was a day for religious observance.
"Corned beef was a cheap cut of meat and the Jewish butchers were happy to sell it to their Irish friends," Lawrence said in an email note, adding that corned beef has long been a phenomenon in New York City. "It just tastes great with mustard, potatoes and, of course, alongside a pint of Guinness."
In Ireland, scones and soda bread are probable starters for March 17. Fried Irish lamb belly “fingers” and slow-poached organic chicken with tarragon, colcannon (mashed potatoes and kale), roasted carrots and herbed Irish cheddar croquette will be on other plates.
Local restaurant owners believe corned beef and cabbage on the menu boosts business for St. Patrick's Day. They think some people might cut their stays short if they discover they can't make the traditional March meal part of their revelry.
Corned beef from the oven in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day at Katie O’Byrnes in Schenectady. (Marc Schultz)
Corned beef and cabbage will be on the menu at the Hibernians' Celtic Crossing on State Street. The hall will be open to the public on St. Patrick's Day. Corned beef and cabbage sandwiches will be served from noon until 3 p.m.; corned beef and cabbage dinners, colcannon and shepherd's pie will be available from 4 until 7:30 p.m.
J.P. Maloney, co-owner of Katie O'Byrne's tavern on Wall Street in Schenectady, said his staff began cooking corned beef last week. Katie's will sell close to 600 pounds of corned beef on the days leading to St. Patrick's, and the day itself.
"It's probably the biggest staple going on for St. Patrick's Day," Maloney said. "We do corned beef and cabbage year round. We also do bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes), shepherd's pie, Reuben sandwiches."
Corned beef is also an all-season feature at Gershon's delicatessen on Union Street in Schenectady.
"We do a corned beef and cabbage dinner for St. Patrick's Day," said Agnes Sutton, a manager at the landmark restaurant. "It's very popular. We get a huge crowd for it."
Crowds come every day for corned beef.
"St. Patrick's Day we are very busy with corned beef, but every day people come in for corned beef sandwiches," Sutton said. "We sell more on St. Paddy's Day, but every day that's the most popular sandwich we have."
Mike Bennett will have corned beef. With a tavern named "Stoney's Irish Grill," he's got to have the American tradition in his kitchen on Van Vranken Avenue.
"It seems like every restaurant has corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day," Bennett said. "Everybody does."
Regulars will come for their toasts and reddish-colored beef. With the meal on the menu, Bennett knows he might also attract new customers.
Marge Schulz, general manager of The Raindancer Restaurant in Amsterdam, shows off a corned beef sandwich with french fries and a pickle. (Gazette file photo)
"We have it as a special every week," Bennett said, explaining the popularity of the meal. "It's traditional, like hunting Easter eggs during Easter. It makes you feel like you're part of it."
Like Maloney, Bennett expects to go through 600 pounds during St. Patrick's Day week. He might go 400 pounds more.
Billy McDonald also will have corned beef for everyone at the Van Dyck Restaurant and Lounge on Union Street in Schenectady.
"It's tradition," McDonald said.
Corned and cabbage is not a regular attraction at the Van Dyck. McDonald believes it's a seasonal taste.
"I feel that once March 18 comes, people don't like corned beef anymore," he said. "I still do, personally. There's a big lead up to it and I think it coincides with the changing of the seasons a little bit."
Corned beef could be linked to spring fever - winter is in decline by the time spring arrives on March 20. By that time, there will be a lot more evening light in the sky; daylight savings time began this past Sunday.
"For a lot of people, it's a way to celebrate their heritage," McDonald said.
He expects more celebrations this year, with St. Patrick's Day falling on a Saturday.
"This year is a whole different animal," McDonald said. "If the weather is nice they're coming out early and they're staying late."
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]