73 Manor St , Dublin 7 01-441-1118 Find them on Facebook €
The Dublin borough of Stoneybatter has seen much gentrification in the past five years. Some of my favourite new cafes and gastropubs are on or near Manor St. With that in mind, I get a pleasant surprise when I visit Cowtown Café, because it’s such a refreshingly straightforward greasy spoon café. Opened in October 2015, it comes complete with squeezy brown-sauce bottles, plastic chairs nailed to plastic tables, and gingham curtains on the windows. Even the name Cowtown harks back to an older, disappearing Dublin.
Proprietors Niall Kavanagh and Sinead Byrne also own Cinnamon Café in Smithfield, which has been on the go for more than a decade. “We opened a greasy-spoon style café because we believe every high street or town should have a cheap and cheerful option,” says Kavanagh. “We really do think a café like ours should be part of the local community and welcome to everyone.” This rings very true and on my visit I notice how varied the clientele are, in both age and accents.
Cowtown’s greatest asset may be their staff. My server, who takes my order at my table, is the quintessential Greasy Spoon Girl, and I mean that as a huge compliment. She’s friendly, she’s super-fast as she flies around with plates of breakfasts and mugs of tea, and she’s funny. “I keep losing my pens in my bun,” she laughs, as she searches in her hair for a biro to take my order. She makes me feel like I’m an extra in The Commitments, and I love her dearly for it.
But none of this would matter if the food wasn’t up to scratch. What really works for me is the option of a large, medium or small fry. The small fry is ¤5 and is a simple plate of a perfectly fried egg, a deliciously charred single rasher of bacon, a sausage and a homemade potato cake, with toast and tea or coffee included. The potato cake is fluffy and reassuringly under-seasoned, exactly how my grandmother would have made it. The sausage is a little on the thin side. A juicier, thicker banger would really elevate this brekkie in terms of flavour, but probably also in terms of price. Breakfast is served until noon, after which you can go for comfort food such as fish finger butties (€4.95), BLTs (4.20), cottage pie (€9.50) or Liver & Mash (€9.95).
That €5 breakfast seemed worringly cheap to me, so I was glad to hear that Cowtown Café keep their suppliers local. Their butchers are Shane and Paul from the Mahon Butchers on Manor St. Their fish comes from Muldoon’s on Prussia Street and Kish on Bow Street, and their fruit and veg comes from Tommy in The Green Grocer’s on Manor St. They bake their own bread and scones, and get the rest of their breads and pastries from Thunders on Prussia Street, Project 12 and Arun Bakery on Oxmantown Lane. The coffee is supplied by McCabe’s Roasters and, though an Americano is on offer, I go for the more traditional diner-style brew. It’s so thick and head-blowingly strong that I wonder if my milk will be able to blend into it. This is, however, the perfect cup of coffee for this setting.
Cowtown offers WiFi for customers, but it seems wrong to suggest you might get a bit of work or browsing done here. Instead, this is a spot for spreading newspapers across your table while you dip your toast in a runny yolk, an opportunity to slow back down to a pace of life associated with a time when a neighbourhood greasy spoon was a more common thing.