If you’re a fan of the Food Network, you’re going to love McKenna’s Kitchen and Market, the new endeavor of Pat and Nancy Durnin in Havertown.
When you walk in, just pull up a stool at the counter, which is made from a piece of wood from an old Norfolk, VA, shipwreck that the designer found abandoned in a barn.
From there you can watch Chef Lee McCarron from Derry City piping mashed potatoes laced with spinach on top of a shepherd’s pie before sliding it into the oven to brown, plating bangers and mash with a drizzle of carmelized onion gravy, and arranging the Irish fry like a fine artist.
But the real reason you’re going to love McKenna’s is because of the food, not the show going on in the open kitchen where it’s prepared.
McCarron, who was the chef at the late, lamented St. Declan’s Well in Philadelphia, has taken some old familiar Irish recipes of the stick-to-your-ribs variety and added a delicate touch. The shepherd’s pie ($11), for example, is filled with ground lamb whose taste is enhanced rather than muffled by a rich oniony gravy. For those who prefer the Americanized version, there’s also a beef-based cottage pie ($10) on the McKenna’s menu.
And the Irish fry ($10), a plate loaded with rashers (Irish bacon), bangers (Irish sausage), eggs, baked beans, grilled tomato, black and white pudding (also sausages, one made with blood, the other without), hand-cut fries, and brown bread, isn’t just a breakfast meal. It’s all your daily requirements for calories, fat, and many vitamins and minerals all on one plate. You won’t eat again until the next day, even if you do have it for breakfast.
The extensive menu also has burgers, sandwiches (including Irish toasties, $7), salads, soups, appetizers and kids’ meals.
All the food, except for the Irish imports, is locally sourced, says co-owner Pat “”Squee” Durnin. “It’s all from within 200 miles of here. Lee says that fresh isn’t necessarily more expensive. It takes more work and more organizing, but sometimes it can save money.”
If the name McKenna’s sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a reflection of his mother-in-law’s decades old endeavor, McKenna’s Irish Shop, which he and Nancy operated in the same location on Darby Road until it closed late last year.
Nancy’s mother, Anne Gallagher McKenna, a Donegal immigrant (Ardara) started selling her knitted mittens, scarves, and sweaters out of her living room and eventually built it into a network of Irish artisans whose woolen goods she sold out of her store, which carried everything from gold and silver jewelry to Barry’s Tea to crates of turf. McKenna’s Irish Shop had a good 35-year run before a changing market made gold too expensive and a 12-piece set of Beleek china something your mother handed down to you, but you didn’t buy for yourself.
When McKenna’s Irish Shop wrapped up its last Claddagh necklace right after Christmas last year, plans were already in the works for the BYOB restaurant and market–where you can still get your Barry’s and more. It’s a joint venture of the Durnins and a local couple, Brian and Jennifer Cleary. Many other Irish hands played a part too.
“A lot of the people here tonight are local Irish trades people and craftsmen who worked on the building,” said Durnin last Friday night during the restaurant’s invitation-only soft opening. (It opened officially last Saturday for breakfast and lunch, then all-day starting on Monday.)
The Durnins and Clearys hired a designer from Virginia to turn the shop into an upscale restaurant space and many of the unusual touches—the handmade wooden tables, tin ceiling, and counter—came from the south. “The tables are handmade from tobacco wood,” explained Brian Cleary. “The tin ceiling date from 1863 and comes from a plantation in Virginia.”
The chairs, however, are local. “They were a find,” he says, clearly delighted. “They were from the Crystal Tearoom at Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia.”
A double door that looks out onto the glassed-in porch room harkens back to old Ireland, when they were designed to keep the animals out and the breezes drifting through the house, explains Durnin. A red “armoire” in the main dining area does provide cabinet space for dishes, glasses and cups, but some of the drawers are shallow because “it’s actually hiding a set of stairs” that leads to an upstairs apartment, Durnin reveals.
And Mrs. McKenna is there too. Reconstructing the shop involved freeing a fireplace that was once in the parlor of the building, which started life as someone’s home. Nancy Durnin had an old platter that had been handed down to her from her mother who got it from her mother. She wanted it to be in the restaurant, but couldn’t find a place for it.
“We were struggling over what to put up over the mantle of the fireplace,” explains Cleary, “then my wife said, “Let’s put it over the fireplace.’ It was like it belonged there.”
Just like McKenna’s Kitchen and Market itself.
McKenna’s is at 1901 Darby Road, Havertown. It’s open from 7 AM to 10 PM. Tea and coffee–the meals as well as the drinks–are served all day. Bread is made daily by a local Irish baker. There’s on-street parking and parking available at the school next door when school isn’t in session. For weekend reservations, call 610-853-2202. BYOB