The Dubliner takes a chance, re-invents itself

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02/10/2014 7:44 AM

05/16/2014 11:30 AM

Jeff Wiltfang knows the space is too big and the location not quite right for the type of clientele he wants and needs to attract.

But, as the new managing partner and director of operations at The Dubliner in the Power and Light District, Wiltfang is giving it the shot of his professional life.

“I thought long and hard about this,” Wiltfang told me as we visited over lunch recently. “I was really happy at The National. We had a great program, servers who really knew their stuff, a nice wine list and diners who appreciated the whole package.”

Still, Wiltfang was up for the challenge, and the significant chunk of the business he received, to come on board.

“There were things I knew I could fix right away,” Wiltfang said. “We’re going to reach out for the kind of diners we need to eat here. It’s always going to be a pub, not fine dining, but the food is going to be local, when possible, made in-house, when possible, and we’re going to embrace our Irish heritage.”

That means authentic ingredients and dishes and special events like the recent Jameson Irish Whiskey tasting. I think there were 12 different Jameson products sampled. (Damn. I’m still kicking myself for not attending that one.)

“It was a great event, and we’re definitely going to do more. We’ve got a guy coming in January who used to live in Minnesota. He moved to Ireland to make whiskey and it’s taking the market by storm,” Wiltfang said.

I think this tasting’s gonna be on a Friday, so I might have to take a little personal time or feign illness. You don’t suppose my bosses are reading this?

It all sounds great, but there can be no argument: The Dubliner, which started as Raglan Road and just celebrated its second anniversary under its new moniker, faces some stiff tests.

First, it’s a huge space, which is great when it’s packed to the gills on event nights at Sprint Center but not so great on a cold gray Tuesday in January or February when the arena is dark and the room nearly empty.

“We’re focusing on non-event days, drawing in people for very good, consistent food at a fair price,” Wiltfang said. “When I first arrived, we didn’t even have a client base in our computer system. I was amazed, but we’re changing that and building things up slowly but surely.”

Of course, the biggest challenge will come with the food. Wiltfang has always tweaked the menu, but he says there’s going to be a whole new menu roll out in January, and the quality of the ingredients is going up.

“The sausages we had on our Irish Charcuterie platter today, in the future, will be coming from either The Local Pig or The Broadway Butcher (two excellent artisanal meat shops). We’re working on a recipe to make our own corned beef. The buns you had with your Irish sliders were homemade,” Wiltfang said. “There’s going to be a lot more of that.”

I, for one, can’t wait to see and taste, the changes. Wiltfang strikes me as a nice guy who knows how to manage a restaurant.

Time will tell if he manages to pull this transformation off. I’ll be trying the items on the new menu for sure, so I guess the story of The Dubliner, both in print and in the P District isn’t finished. Stay tuned.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.

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