Fired up for a fry-up with a difference
For a small and unassuming seaside village, Shanagarry in East Cork has some pretty eminent inhabitants. There are The Allens of Ballymaloe, the dynasty Ballymaloe House and its nearby Cookery School. It’s because of The Allens that I’m on a visit to the area to soak in words of wisdom and calls to action at the recent Ballymaloe Litfest.
But it’s one of The Allens’ esteemed neighbours that is the subject of today’s column – the Stephen Pearce Handmade Pottery Workshop and Shop, which reopened at this premises in 2010. The Head Chef at the café was also drawn to Shanagarry by Ballymaloe. Christine Crowley, originally from Waterford, did the famous Ballymaloe Cookery Course in 2011. She loved the area so much that she moved to Shanagarry after completing the course and worked in the Crawford Gallery Café in Cork. In May 2015, she took over the helm of the café, bringing her passion for local produce and an interest in Middle Eastern cooking with her.
The café sits towards the back of the workshop and shop, and has an old-school feel of a farmhouse kitchen, complete with a large wooden dresser to house the plates, cups, jars of jams and homemade cakes of the day. The decor could perhaps benefit from an update, but its slightly antique appearance makes the vibrance of Crowley’s cooking even more of a surprise.
The first inkling that I’m in for a memorable lunch is when I see sabih on the menu (¤9), a delicious Israeli-Palestinian sandwich that combines aubergine with tahini and egg. Crowley is doing a seriously solid version of this street-food classic, one that I’ve never seen on an Irish menu before.
I’m even more taken with my marinated feta salad (¤10). There are fresh peas that pop with the taste of spring, mixed with delicate mint and deliciously lively rocket. There are toasted seeds and crunchy broccoli, and it’s all brought together with a zingy citrus dressing.
Every morning, Crowley takes her food waste from the café to feed the hens at Ballymaloe Cookery School, just a few minutes’ drive away. In return, she takes the fresh eggs from the hens and uses them in the café’s kitchen. She also picks salad leaves every day from the Ballymaloe Cookery School Glasshouse. “I sometimes forget how lucky I am to be able to do that,” Crowley says. “It’s amazing. Darina and Tim (Allen) are so supportive. They want me to use their produce. They want that quality to be in the café.”
Elsewhere on the menu is bacon from the renowned Jack McCarthy of McCarthy’s in Kanturk and black pudding from Rossacarbery. “I’ve basically gathered all of my favourite ingredients from Cork and put them on the menu,” explains Crowley. She has a young team helping her out in the tiny kitchen as well as in the front of house, looking after the tables in the café and outside the workshop.
The coffee is very good, too, sourced from the Golden Bean which has a roastery in Ballymaloe House. Alongside the coffee and teas, Crowley makes homemade kombucha with a vinegary kick and sweeter lemonades during the summer.
The final touch is that all the food and hot drinks are served in Stephen Pearce Pottery, a mix of the classic collection that most will associate with the brand and the newer Shanagarry range of glazed plates and cups, inspired by Stephen Pearce’s father, all of which are available to buy in the shop.For more, see thecafeatstephenpearce.com