Carmody’s offers reliable but mediocre pub fare

It was a long road to Bennington, Vt. – full of twists and turns, and the rain made it all the more dreary. But two rewards awaited me and my companions at the end of this road: margaritas and guacamole. But alas, as they say in Mexico City, “A quien madruga, Dios le ayuda” – God helps those who get up early. And thanks to a lack of foresight on my part, Rattlesnake Café, Bennington’s premier Mexican cantina, was closed when we got there at 9 p.m. on Friday night; the hostess graciously suggested Carmody’s (421 Main St.), Bennington’s premier Irish pub, as a late-night alternative.

Off we went, from Mexico City to Dublin, which looked a lot more like Applebee’s than I had anticipated. Don’t be fooled by the shamrock motif – Carmody’s is an all-American pub in the same vein as Water Street Grill, but with athletic jerseys and hockey sticks hanging on the wall.
In order to compromise our desire for Mexican food at an Irish pub, my companions and I ordered the house specialty, Irish Nachos, to whet our raging appetites. These “nachos” consisted of waffle fries smothered in Monterey jack and cheddar cheese, topped with diced corned beef with sides of salsa and sour cream. We also ordered frozen margaritas, not quite ready yet to give up those dreams of Tijuana.

The Irish Nachos ($9.50) were tasty; as they would say at Grab ’n Go, the nachos were “fully loaded” with generous toppings of cheese and huge chunks of corned beef. My companions and I agreed that the addition of corned beef was a wise one. However, I felt I was being played for a fool – Monterey jack and cheddar? I don’t think so. I know this cheese pretty well, and it goes by the name of Squeeze E. Not that it mattered; the fries were still delicious, but as the venerable Judge Judy once said, “Don’t spit on my cupcake and tell me it’s frosting.”

As expected from an Irish pub, the frozen margaritas were served up in pint glasses, and as expected from an Irish pub, they were mediocre – syrupy and artificial-tasting – but acceptable. However, my companions and I almost choked on the price tag: $7.
My margarita was the only overpriced item on the menu, though. Most entrees are priced between $8 and $15, and in my opinion, it’s never a good idea to get the $21.95 Choice Aged Sirloin Steak at neighborhood places like this, anyway. My companions and I ordered mostly sandwiches – I got the TJ Burger, a bacon cheeseburger with sautéed onions ($8.95).

I am very discerning when it comes to burgers, and this was a good burger. At a half-pound, the patty was a good thickness for the bun, and it was juicy, but not too greasy – the beef was quite lean. The cheese, which was Vermont cheddar, was super-sharp and gooey – a perfect complement to the abundant meat. My beef with this burger? The bacon, which tasted cheap – it was too salty and rubbery, and it lacked a good smoky flavor. The somewhat undercooked bun was unexceptional, as well.

But the burger was accompanied by the best sweet potato fries I’ve had in a while; they were much better than the ones at Water Street Grill and a little better than the ones at the ’6 House. The fries were cut thin, and they were fabulously crispy.

I tried some of my companion’s Fried Fish Sandwich ($7.95), which was very agreeable. The cod was well-seasoned, the breading provided a nice, satisfying crunch and the lettuce and tomato helped cut through the grease. Basically, it was an improved, higher-quality McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish.

Another companion’s pesto penne ($8.95) was equally homey but satisfying. The pesto was creamy and tasted fresh, and the penne was al dente – a solid dish, through and through.

Although the food at Carmody’s wasn’t particularly exceptional, the service was. Our waitress was friendly but not uncomfortably so, and helpful but not pushy. As one can deduce from Water Street Grill and the ’6 House, it’s rare to come across such good service at a casual bar-restaurant, and the warmth at Carmody’s did not go unnoticed.

But in the end, Carmody’s is just another mediocre townie restaurant. As Max Beerbohm once said, “Only mediocrity can be trusted to be always at its best,” and this is certainly the case at hand. There’s nothing wrong with Carmody’s – nothing at all. But why drive down that winding road for mediocrity when it’s just steps away at Water Street Grill?