When Ray Dunlea heard there was a new executive chef from his native Ireland working at a downtown hotel, he just had to check him out.
So Dunlea had dinner at The Ambassador Hotel, then came back several more times before finally trying Shaun Brady’s Sunday brunch with his corned beef hash and house-made scones.
“His scones are actually better than my mother’s, but don’t tell her that,” Dunlea said.
Three months ago, Brady left the Ambassador to became executive chef of Dunlea’s Conroy’s Public House restaurants in Overland Park and Westwood, and to partner up on a new Irish restaurant, Brady’s Public House. They looked at several spots before Dunlea decided to rebrand his Mike’s Tavern at 5424 Troost Ave.
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Dragon Inn had operated in the space in the 1950s through the mid-1960s, last showing up in the city directory in 1965 with Mike’s Tavern listed in 1966. Mike’s Tavern had been under different ownership groups before Dunlea and a partner took over in 2010. It served a typical bar menu of Buffalo wings, loaded nachos, sliders, patty melts, pork tenderloins and the like, along with cheap beer.
That made it popular with college students for decades. But Dunlea said in the last couple of years students from the nearby Rockhurst University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City have been leaving for places like the Brooksider Sports Bar & Grill in Brookside. His “beer and burger bar” also had caused him plenty of problems from staff turnover to college students trying to use fake IDs.
So Dunlea and Brady shut Mike’s down after school shut down in June, then they spent a couple of months remodeling the red brick building, putting in a new front and back bar, and an open kitchen where Brady can see some of his customers in the back dining room (Mike’s former video game room).
“Now it’s a ‘from scratch’ kitchen with locally sourced ingredients and cooked to order, no microwaves,” Brady said.
“Classic Irish dishes with a twist. My scones are an old family recipe, probably been around for 100 years,” he said. “But my mixed berry jam, that was just something I started doing because I’m not a big fan of store-bought jam — too sweet, too many preservatives. Mine has strawberries, raspberries, blueberries with a little vanilla and sugar. Fresh is always better.”
At just 15 years old, Brady started working in a restaurant in his native Nenagh, in County Tipperary, a town of about 8,000 people. He moved to Dublin a year later and earned a degree at DIT School of Culinary Arts and Food Technology in 2001. He worked in Dublin, then traveled in Europe and Asia before moving to Chicago in 2006 with his wife, who is from Wichita.
At Brady’s Public House, menu items include Scotch eggs (boiled egg wrapped in pork sausage, breaded and fried and served with Colman’s Mustard); curried spice fries; “handwiches” such as the Irishman with corned beef, caramelized onions and cheddar cheese with an Irish Whiskey & Guinness mustard; the Irish Whiskey cured salmon BLT with a sun-dried tomato aioli; fish and chips; fried chicken in a maple brine with mashed potatoes and green beans; P.E.I. mussels with fries; and steak and Guinness pie.
Brady said what Americans call Shepherd’s Pie has hamburger and mashed potatoes. But in Ireland that’s known as Cottage Pie while Shepherd’s Pie comes with lamb or mutton. So his Traditional Cottage Pie comes with ground beef, carrots, onions, celery and peas, topped with Colman’s mustard mashed potatoes and served with a side of Irish soda bread made in-house.
Desserts include Guinness brownie parfaits, cinnamon apple bread pudding with warm Baileys Irish Cream and Guinness ice cream floats.
“We’re Irish so we cook with a lot of alcohol. Our Scotch eggs are flying out the door, our sausage rolls. You could always grab a sausage roll, they were always available breakfast, lunch or dinner in Ireland,” he said.
Brady can see customers from his open kitchen and often stops by customers’ tables to check in.
“I look at their expressions when they try the food and their eyes grow wider,” Brady said. “One hundred people can tell me something is the best they ever had, but if one person has a bad meal they can tell 10 people. So we want to make sure everyone has a great experience and leaves happy.”