At Mickey Cavanaugh's, Tradition Means Hearty Fare, Hospitable Style

Posted: March 18, 1988

In keeping with the spirit of St. Patrick's Day, I visited Mickey Cavanaugh's at 23d and Sansom Streets, a restaurant-saloon that is as much an Irish tradition in Philadelphia as corned beef and cabbage is among lovers of all things Gaelic.

To the uninitiated, Cavanaugh's might appear as nothing more than a neighborhood tappie with some tables in the back. What first meets the eye is a bar area painted a green that can only be distantly associated with the Emerald Isle. Little else lends a clue to the legitimacy of the place.

Walk to the main dining room - the one called the President's Room - and you will discover a delightful subculture within the tavern. This is a neat dining area with mahogany walls decorated with portraits of our presidents and related items.

Cavanaugh's is sodden with family tradition and scrupulous tavern hospitality. Its food is modestly priced and the portions often border on the excessive.

A special dinner menu each evening includes not only vegetables but a salad bar that's a meal unto itself. On Tuesday evening, for instance, there was a full-course special that included cup of soup du jour or juice, broiled half chicken, two vegetables, coffee or tea, dessert and the salad bar.

The salad bar includes selections ranging from chickpeas and a mixture similar to a Waldorf Salad to green and marinated items and assorted breads - which on a visit earlier this week included a delicious scone.

Corned beef and cabbage is generally served only on Wednesdays but will be available this weekend in honor of you-know-who. What is almost always available at Cavanaugh's is the gargantuan, bone-in prime rib ($11.95). It's almost always tender and a true treat.

The deviled crab a la Cavanaugh ($9.95) is a delightful football-shaped mound of succulent crab meat with little filler. Broiled pork chops ($9.95) are center cut and served with apple sauce as well as two vegetables.

Snapper soup (cup, $1.95; bowl, $2.95) is a menu staple and a tasty preparation. What amazes me is that its snapper-soup flavor rings true, yet I'm always hard-pressed to find anything but beef and slivered egg whites.

Specials during a recent visit included roast eye of round with mushroom sauce ($8.95), broiled codfish filet ($7.25) and breaded veal parmigiana with spaghetti ($7.95).

You can also choose from steaks ($11.95 to $14.95), liver with onions and bacon ($9.95), steak and stuffed shrimp ($14.95) and baked flounder stuffed with a filling of crab imperial ($10.50).

Lunchtime at Cavanaugh's is more of the same - huge portions, small prices. And even when it's not the week of St. Patrick's Day celebrations, it can be tough finding an opening in the crowd that generally jams the place around noon.

NEW AND NOTEWORTHY. New owners have taken over Isola, 19th and Market Streets, changed its name to BJ's 19th Street Cafe and are serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and late supper, including hand-carved roast beef. There's a live jazz duo Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. . . . The new dining room at Cafe Nola, 328 South St., overlooks a courtyard and gives the cajun-creole restaurant 30 additional seats.

MICKEY CAVANAUGH'S

23d and Sansom Streets, 561-4097

Open: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 to 10 p.m. Sundays.

Price range: $6.25 to $14.95

Credit cards: Visa and MasterCard

Nonsmoking section: No

Facilities for handicapped: No

Atmosphere: Irish tappie with food

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