You would think it wouldn't be all that hard to find a place in Astoria that serves basic pub food and a pint of Guinness -- neighboring Woodside probably has a dozen such places -- but it is surprisingly challenging. It's as though all the Mediterranean-style Euro cafes have the bite-and-a-sip market cornered, so many of the Irish bars in the neighborhood just don't find it cost-efficient to serve food. Cronin & Phelan is one of the few exceptions, so we find ourselves there more often than two people hell-bent on eating at every restaurant in Astoria should -- repeats don't come without thought. But craving a pint of Guinness can simplify our decision.
Cronin & Phelan doesn't do anything spectacularly right, though their burgers are satisfying, the fish and chips light and tasty, and the shepherd's pie a few notches above par. (We're particularly fond of how the mashed potatoes on top are sculpted like frosting and ever-so-lightly browned.) But that they are serving these things at all, and not Greek salads and Nutella crepes, goes a long way with us. And the service is always warm and matter-of-fact, as it should be at such places. They have always acted as if they remember us, even on our first visit.
Despite the faint warmth of the staff, the atmosphere inside Cronin & Phelan is not what you'd call especially cozy -- it's not a snug, hardwood-and-fireplace sort of establishment. There's a jukebox, but no one plays it much; maybe it comes into play later in the evening after the kitchen closes (way too early). It's the kind of bar where you can't be facing a direction without having a good view of a large flat-screen TV showing the Yankees game. It's also the kind of place where you can watch horse-racing simulcasts, which means (a) inebriated old men and (b) exceedingly odd conversations with said old men. For instance, on a visit before Easter, someone who introduced himself as "William Aloysius" told us all about the city's gyms and the days we'll find cooked turnips (his favorite) on the menu. It seems like a place where every evening, someone will be embarrassingly incoherent, and no one will pay them much mind -- which makes it a haven of sorts, and perhaps one to look forward to in case things go horribly wrong for us years down the line.
Price: Around $12 for entrees. In line with pub menus.
Will we go again? Cronin & Phelan ties for the record for our number of repeat visits since beginning this mission. At this point we're forced to alternate which of us gets to be Cronin.