Since its opening in 1999, Rooney’s Public House in Abacoa has been a classic, if slightly upscale bastion of typical Irish fare. A few good brews on tap, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, burgers and sandwiches, all in a clubby, lights-turned-down establishment that drew in a steady crowd and kept them coming long after other restaurants opened and closed on Town Center Drive.
But things are no longer all classically Irish at Rooney’s. The pub has gone gastropub. It’s become local, gourmet and organic. There are six salads, plus a salad of the day on the menu. Crab-stuffed deviled eggs and a house-made veggie burger. Raspberry hibiscus iced tea and locally-brewed sodas. There’s ceviche and Rooney’s Ale-battered salmon, Parmesan and garlic chips.
What in the world happened here?
Call it an evolution, a revolution or just a big change-up. Rooney’s has taken up the locavore idea, given it free run in the kitchen and their sources get full credit on the menu. Onli Sodas (West Palm Beach) and Teas, Etc. (Delray Beach) are featured, along with a greatly expanded menu of beer offerings. Appetizers still include ale cheese and potato leek soups, but there’s a locally sourced vegetable soup, too. The shrimp in your shrimp cocktail are Florida shrimp; the fish in the ceviche are also local. The chicken served here is Murray’s free range organic and cheeses are either local or imported from Ireland.
The starter of crab-stuffed deviled eggs was more decadent than your average deviled egg, and worth the added calories. Not runny, eggy or fishy; everything balanced in terms of looks and taste. It's a dish that sounds over the top as a starter, but it isn't. The veggie burger, served on a brioche bun, is not the frozen patty puck you've had elsewhere. This is handmade from fresh vegetables, nuts and grains, topped with avocado and tomato. Unexpected in an Irish pub, but a welcome healthy addition to the menu. On the classic side, the shepherd's pie, a mix of beef, lamb, vegetables and mashed potatoes bound with a rich dark gravy, comes in its own cast iron fry pan. If you order this, you won't be sharing it.
And speaking of not sharing, if you like chips (what they call fries across the pond), get your own order. They come in four flavors or plain, and they are ridiculous in their addictive lightness. The server recommended the Parmesan garlic, and despite the scent of garlic that hit the table before the chips did, the flavor of garlic did not overwhelm at all.
And that server, along with the others, is part of what puts Rooney's in a newer and higher plane. They are knowledgeable. They eat what's on their menu, drink what's behind the bar, know what to recommend. Even on a busy car show Saturday night, they can keep up and smile while they do it.
Two changes from the old menu: prices are higher and portion sizes are smaller. The smaller portion sizes aren't a bad thing when you consider that great quality consumed in adequate amounts is more than adequate. And great quality costs more. Soups, salads, side dishes and small plates range from $4 to $15, sandwiches from $8 to $11 and entrees $14 to $26.
You can still come to Rooney's for a fish and chips fix with a side order of Guinness. Or you can check out the more adventurous side of an evolving menu. Either way, the Irish accent is still there.
Rooney’s Public House, 1153 Town Center Drive, Jupiter, FL. Open 7 days. The kitchen open until 10 p.m. and the bar is open until midnight during the week (1 a.m. on weekends). Phone (561) 694-6610.
And here’s a great find that has nothing to do with food. The Justin Bartlett Animal Rescue organization, started in 2007 and based in Royal Palm Beach, is a group of volunteers singularly dedicated to rescuing and caring for homeless and unwanted animals and finding both foster and forever homes for them. They are a great group of very enthusiastic people who have chosen to work as close to the streets as possible, spending their time, effort and funds on helping animals, rather than on boardroom battles, fancy offices or official salaries. This nonprofit is very much a grassroots organization that can use help, whether you can donate, volunteer, foster or adopt. Their recent appearance at the monthly Abacoa car show drew a big crowd and hopefully, some new foster and forever pet parents. Contact them at (561) 684-1010 if you can help.