By Nancy Steinberg
For the TODAY
Remember when you were a kid, going to your nana’s house meant relaxation, comfort, a cheery atmosphere and simply the best food?
You can most definitely go home again. Relaxation, comfort, a cheery atmosphere and simply the best food are all still found at nana’s: Nana’s Irish Pub in Newport.
“It’s not all about the restaurant,” says Nana’s owner Philomena O’Brien of her cozy spot in the heart of the Nye Beach neighborhood. “It’s about welcoming people, taking care of people. It’s like coming into a parlor.”
She has a very specific parlor in mind as a model: Nana’s is named for O’Brien’s mother, Bridget O’Brien, Nana to Philomena’s children and hostess extraordinaire. Philomena recalls fondly the weekend family gatherings at her house where everyone, down to the littlest children, would be asked in turn to sing a song or recite some poetry. Bridget welcomed and fed the masses, strangers as well as family and friends.
“She was the cook,” O’Brien said. “She always had four or five things cooking away at once.”
Bridget O’Brien passed away 13 years ago, but her spirit lives on in the relaxed, friendly atmosphere at Nana’s Irish Pub and in the hearty and mouthwatering comfort food served there. A Nye Beach fixture for nearly 10 years, Nana’s has always been a family affair. Philomena initially opened it with her daughter, Tara, who has now moved east to run a second Nana’s Irish Pub in Middletown, Virginia. (The “second” Nana’s was, in a way, the first: Philomena and her ex-husband, the Irish balladeer Brian Coughlan, opened it as the Irish Isle Restaurant and Pub in 2004, and when Coughlan retired in 2014, Philomena happily stepped back in and reinvented it.)
The menu at Nana’s, the absolute best in pub and comfort food, was inspired by Bridget’s cooking. Perennial favorites include the shepherd’s pie (when the server asks if you want cheese on top or house-made hot sauce on the side, the answer is yes to both), the beer-battered fish and chips, the hearty meatloaf and the Irish specialties like bangers and mash and Scotch eggs. Melt-in-your-mouth corned beef and cabbage is available at dinner time. A variety of soups, sandwiches and savory pies round out the menu. Leave room for dessert: the chocolate brandy bread pudding with fresh whipped cream is an absolute dream.
If, like me, you have the Nana’s menu memorized, you’ll be excited to see a couple of new offerings. One is the Galway cod au gratin, Northwest cod topped with Tillamook cheddar, stone-ground mustard and cream, baked and served over mashed potatoes. The other is a British specialty (we’re all friends here!): banoffee pie, a pastry crust filled with a layer of house-made toffee, fresh bananas and fresh whipped cream topped with a sprinkle of Cadbury chocolate flakes. These are flavors that were born to be eaten together and it’s just as good as it sounds.
O’Brien prides herself on using as many local vendors as she possibly can. Beef, all grass-fed and organic, comes from Eugene-based Knee-Deep Cattle Co., and most fish comes from Newport’s Newell Seafoods. O’Brien raises the pigs for Nana’s meatloaf herself on her farm in nearby Logsden, and a good portion of the produce used in the restaurant this summer will come from the farm as well. Even the coffee is local, a custom blend roasted by Cape Foulweather Coffee Co. in Lincoln City.
No discussion of Nana’s Irish Pub is complete without talking about the “pub” part. A tall, dark and handsome Guinness is the most traditional choice at the bar, of course, but Nana’s also offers an excellent selection of other beers on tap, wine by the glass or bottle, and nearly anything else your heart, and thirst, desires. Try a layered brew, like the Snake Bite, half cider and half Guinness. If you love Irish coffee, you’ll love their specialty coffee drinks like the Coffee Nudge: coffee with brandy, creme de cacao, and coffee liqueur topped with fresh whipped cream — perfect if you want to combine your drink and dessert choices in one order.
Nana’s biggest day of the year is fast approaching. Because St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday this year, the celebration will go all weekend. Saturday night is when the party hits its peak, with the appearance of the Portland-based Celtic quartet St. James’s Gate. All the ballads, jigs, reels, pub songs and hot fiddle licks you could possibly want will fill the air, starting at 7 pm.
“It’s going to be a roaring weekend,” O’Brien said. And you’ll be welcomed into the fray like family.
Nana’s Irish Pub is located at 613 NW 3rd Street in Newport’s Nye Beach. For more information, go to www.nanasirishpub.com or call 541-574-8787.