Nestled away on the corner of Colborne Street and Leader lane, behind the King Edward Hotel in Toronto's historic St Lawrence Market neighbourhood is P.J. O’Brien, one of the most charming and authentic Irish pubs in town. With it's hardwood floors, copper top bar and white table linens, we've been coming to P.J. O'Brien for over 15 years, when Pat Quinn still held court every day, and could be found tottering down the street during the winter months decked out in a full-length brown mink, with matching Cossack-style fur hat, and accompanied by his loyal companion Guinness, an all-brown cockapoo. Not a Christmas went by without Pat Quinn buying us a drink on the house. Such random acts of kindness leave an impression. He was a lovely fellow with a heart of gold.
What also keeps us coming back over the years, is the traditional pub fare and Irish comfort food which are always reliable. Melt-in-your-mouth Shepherds Pie with mashed potatoes and old-fashioned Beef & Guiness Stew with potatoes, turnips, parsnips, carrots and mushrooms are classic comfort food, and the Chicken Curry and Kilkenny Ale Fish & Chips with homemade lemon tartar sauce are hard to beat. The Grilled Calamari Salad with baby greens, roasted bell peppers, olives, grape tomatoes, feta cheese and herb white wine vinaigrette are one of my low carb favourites, as well as their Classic Mussels Provencal with PEI mussels cooked in garlic, onions, celery, bell peppers, white wine and tomato basil sauce. Warm and welcoming, P.J. O’Brien offers a a taste of Ireland in the heart of historic Toronto all year round.
The copper topped wooden bar at P.J. O'Brien
Pint of Guinness
Beef braised in Guinness with potatoes, turnips, parsnips, carrots and mushrooms
Chicken Curry served with basmati rice and our famous Indian style curry sauce
Guinness Braised Lamb Shanks
Recipe courtesy of chef Paul Pisa, PJ O'Brien
4 lamb shanks, each about 1 lb
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 each: onion, leek, celery stalk, peeled carrot, all cut into 2-inch chunks
2 each: peeled garlic cloves, sprigs thyme, sprigs rosemary, bay leaves
8 whole black peppercorns
1 plum tomato, quartered
2 cups Guinness, at room temperature
2 cups low-sodium chicken or beef stock
Season lamb with salt and pepper
In large fry pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook lamb, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, 10 minutes. Transfer lamb to 4-inch deep casserole or baking dish — meat should fit snuggly as possible. Drain off all but 2 tbsp of fat from fry pan. Add onion, leek, celery, carrot and garlic. Raise heat to high. Cook, stirring often, until nicely browned, 5 minutes. Add vegetables to lamb along with thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, peppercorns and tomato. Return fry pan to heat. Add beer and stock, scraping up any brown bits. When liquid is hot — don’t let boil — pour over lamb.
Wrap pan tightly with foil. Bake in centre of preheated 325°F oven until lamb is fork tender, 2-1/2 to 3 hours. Carefully transfer lamb shanks to platter. Strain braising liquid into medium saucepan, discarding solids. Wash braising dish. Return shanks to dish. Bring liquid to boil over medium-high heat. Skim off fat that rises to surface. Reduce liquid until salt level is to your taste. Pour sauce over lamb. Cover and return to oven. Bake until hot, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes, rice or polenta.