Emer McLysaght: I spent 15 years chasing the white wine heights of my 20s

I spent my 20s at Cafe Bar Deli on George’s Street in Dublin city centre. It almost feels glamorous, like it was Studio 54 of its day. It was just a restaurant, and Andy Warhol and co were represented by The Girls After Work On A Thursday, and the whiskey sours or Manhattans were replaced with bottles of the cheapest white wine on the menu. We weren’t sophisticated enough yet to order the second-cheapest or come close to a red.

Cafe Bar Deli did a great range of fancy pizzas, but it was their salads that shone, and that’s where I first cultivated my love of the Caesar salad. Extreme hardship about anything with mayonnaise or vinegar meant salad dressings and by extension salads weren’t a huge draw apart from the traditional Irish summer offering of head lettuce, tubes of sweaty ham and hard-boiled eggs in balls.

Ordering a salad as a main course was extremely cosmopolitan. There were no fries and had lettuce as a base. I was basically Sophia Loren

My 20s was also haunted by a deep fear of sauces and calories, which somewhat ironically led me to order the Cafe Bar Deli Caesar for the first time, thinking it might be the best option. “healthy”.

Ordering a salad as a main course was extremely cosmopolitan. There were no fries and had lettuce as a base. I was basically Sophia Loren. Cafe Bar Deli was a gateway for many young women my age who had previously shunned salad as scary or unnecessary. That was in the 2000s, before wellness culture and kale pushed leafy dishes to the fore.

The relaxed but grown-up atmosphere of the restaurant and the offer of pizza breads with exotic dips of tapenade and flavored hummus and pesto gave people like me – a ruby ​​from the countryside of Kildare – the confidence to go to Full Salad for dinner.

Cafe Bar Deli’s Caesar salad set the standard for me. The chicken was juicy, the croutons were big and homemade, the dressing was creamy, and all the anchovies had been thoughtfully reduced to less than an inch of life. The resistance was the hearty parmesan shavings served on the generously dressed romaine. Any resemblance to a “healthy” po-faced salad was minimal. It was basically meat, gravy and cheese with a side of leaves.

The restaurant closed its doors in 2011, a victim of the recession, and thus began an ongoing quest to chase the high salad. The trips to the United States are probably where I’ve come closest, with their bounty of dressing and cheese. The experiences, however, are too fleeting to have any meaning.

I’ve had purist Caesars, where it’s the bare bones of leaves, vinaigrette and whole anchovies – even though the original 1920s recipe didn’t include fish at all – and call me a peasant but I don’t don’t want to have to acknowledge their existence. Out of sight, out of mind. I had duds with glazed chunks of reformed chicken and watery tomato eighths.

I had very passable supermarket Caesars: Marks and Spencer, bow yours. Among the take-out salad vendors on the production line, Sprout’s Kale Caesar is the best. I remove the sun-dried tomatoes because I personally think they don’t belong in the bowl, but each has its place. I’ve even been known to savor Tesco’s chicken and bacon Caesar wrap. It pulled me out of the hole more than once.

The closest I’ve found to scratching the itch is the Caesar Salad at Dublin’s Woolen Mills on the North Quays. Maybe it was because it was the first meal I had after the Covid-19 lockdown. The Woolen Mills salad is served with hot grilled chicken. The dressing is creamy and the anchovies are incognito. Neither the crispy bacon nuggets nor the Parmesan portion leave you hungry. The addition of toasted pine nuts is inspired. I have gone back twice since to order it again.

Woolen Mills is a lovely restaurant, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a hangout for girls in their twenties after work. As much as I mourn the loss of the Cafe Bar Deli salad, I mourn the loss of those evenings. The night I admitted that for too long I thought ‘Cafe Bar Deli’ was just a long fancy Italian word, to be said with panache: Caphebardellliiii. The many parties that spilled into the Globe Bar next to or downstairs from Rí-Rá before a 6am shift the next morning. The world’s problems solved with these €22 bottles of wine.

In fact, I have trouble remembering the price of the cheapest bottle of white wine on the menu in 2008. I interviewed veterans of the Cafe Bar Deli and their suggestions ranged from €16 to €35. However, €16 seems too low for Celtic Tiger Dublin – although a friend reminds me that ‘we used to get bottles for a ten in the car park at McGrattans’ – and at €35 we would have been drinking in taped flanges. to our thighs. I guess the low 20 would have been worth it even if it felt like the enamel was washed off our teeth.

It was the best of times.

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