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Galway Bay Irish Restaurant

Galway Bay Irish Restaurant & Whiskey Bar is the kind of place where, if you're going to sit down at the bar by yourself, you're probably going to end up in a conversation.

Situated by the water in Annapolis Maryland, Galway Bay Irish Restaurant & Whiskey Bar embodies Irish culture by serving up traditional fare and innovative dishes in a festive atmosphere. On the heels of its 20th anniversary, we caught up with Executive Chef Steve Hardison to find out what sets this pub and restaurant apart from the crowd.

If you had to describe Galway Bay in three words, what would they be?

Longevity. Family. History. Galway Bay has been here for 20 years, but the space has been a continuous restaurant for over 90 years. It’s a family-friendly atmosphere; we do not have any televisions or DJ music playing. We rely on guests to bring their own conversation. This is the kind of place where, if you’re going to sit down at the bar by yourself, you’re probably going to end up in a conversation.

Tell me about the live music.

We have local regulars that play on Friday and Saturday nights, and Irish bands traveling around the world that come in and do Irish songs and dance. We even have one young girl, around 12 years old, who comes in often to play the bagpipes.

What are some of your signature dishes?

We’re known for our corned beef and cabbage. We worked with Sysco to find the supplier with the right corned beef taste profile and seasonings. It is a first cut, which is the leaner part of the brisket. It’s been a mutual work in progress to find the right quality product and to make sure it is exclusive to us.

Another dish that patrons love is our cabbage wrap, which is stuffed with bits of corned beef and mashed potato, wrapped inside a cabbage leaf and served with a three-mustard sauce. We also make hand-dredged corned beef poppers and flash-fried potato cakes with three cheeses.

Do you have a personal favorite on the menu?

I make an appetizer called Pork Belly Pickups, where I put goat cheese, homemade Irish whiskey-orange marmalade, smoked pork belly and micro arugula on caramelized-onion naan. I get the naan, the smoked pork belly (which is actually bacon) and the goat cheese all from Sysco. It’s a popular dish.

What other items do you typically source from Sysco?

We use the Portico five-ounce cod loin for our fish and chips, the domestic lamb for our lamb stew and the Center-Cut Certified Angus New York steak—there are quite a lot of Sysco items on the menu.

How has Sysco been an integral partner in your success?

The fact that our rep, Todd Whiteford, has been with us for many years is a big help. He knows the restaurant. He’s seen the menu change and he’s able to offer ideas and show us interesting products. He doesn’t try to sell us something that’s outside our wheelhouse.

I also work closely with Candace Hilger, my local OpCo chef. I call her, and we talk about menu changes. We talk about food. She suggests products and gives me the SKU numbers so I can look for them online; if I’m interested, she’ll arrange to get me a sample, which is very helpful. I drive nearly three hours to see Candace two to three times per year, and it’s well worth the trip. She’ll spend half a day with me, cooking me food, showing me products. I change the menu three times a year, so she knows I am always working on new things. She suggests lots of new ideas and recipes that will work for us, specifically as an Irish restaurant.

What does the future hold?

In 2018, we redid the interior to look like an authentic Irish distillery. We have memorabilia on the walls from Jameson and Macallan. The dining room is accented with black mahogany and black cabinets that are lit inside to showcase the whiskeys. It gives a classier look to the restaurant.

Irish pubs have often had the stigma of being a place where you can get drunk, and by the way, there’s also some food. But we’ve tried to turn that stereotype upside down. We have great food, and at the same time you can have some very fine alcohol.