Five o’clock Friday afternoon at O’Bricks Irish Pub & Martini Bar. Stop and go and brake and swerve and other assorted traffic fun during the 45-minute drive up Tamiami Trail from downtown Sarasota to downtown Bradenton during rush hour, which, in case you are new to the area, starts raging at 4 p.m. during this high season of February and March. I want a strong martini and I want to see my amazing wife Kristin walk through that door. Food sounds good, too.
I start at the drinks section and see “Steve’s Vesper”? The menu does not say anything about “Steve” but does mention the martini is inspired by “Casino Royale” and that it is a mix of Hendrick’s Gin, Three Olives Vodka and “a splash of dry vermouth, shaken (not stirred), served up with a twist.” I order one. Not because of my affinity for James Bond (do not get me wrong, though, I admire the man), but because I need something stiff to sip on while I wait for Kristin.
I am at a bar stool facing the brick walls of a former alleyway with my back to the door. My drink is well made and my bartender, Rachel, is attentive and gregarious, but I keep fidgeting. Keep checking my phone, turning around, and seeing if my wife has made it through the traffic down Manatee Avenue. It can also be quite stressful. And finding a parking spot on or near Old Main Street during this time on a Friday can be borderline traumatic.
Kristin walks in, sits down next to me, smiles at the bartender, and within moments she and Rachel have a conversation that leads to my wife getting a martini not even on the menu. Rachel explains it is a special called a “Tommy O’Tini” and that the drink is her favorite to make and consume and, by the way, and this is just me riffing, “Tommy” must be friends with “Steve” and both, I bet, must be friends with owner Mike Carter.
So, yeah, the Tommy O’Tini is a simple but smartly balanced combination of freshly muddled strawberries, Three Olives Vodka and splashes of Sprite and sour mix making for a tasty, if less than manly, martini. Kristin loves it. A woman nearby spots the pink beverage and asks if she can order one, which, like all the other specialty martinis costs a mere $6 during the O’Brick’s daily 4-7 p.m. happy hour. Did I mention I was hungry?
Rachel recommends we order the Mike Carter Original Wings ($10) and the Stuffed Hot Banana Peppers ($9).
Both generous portions arrive quickly, at the same time. I tear into the whole wing – that is wingette and drumette all together the way the poultry gods intended – with all the restraint of my teenage self after a long, hungry wrestling season spent maintaining 3.5 percent body fat. Mojo-marinated and grilled with chopped garlic and keen seasoning, the wings are served with celery, carrots and a gravy boat brimming with Maytage blue cheese. They are at once crisp on the outside and tender under the skin and brimming a judicious mix of seasoning. Kristin and I highly recommend the wings.
As for the stuffed banana peppers served over garlic bread – and this is solely my opinion – the “Italian cheeses, fresh herbs and spices” that are mentioned on the menu and cram the peppers prove, especially after the second bite, to lean towards bland. Filling, yes, but not exactly flavorful. How about packing those banana peppers with some really good goat cheese or that awesomely fresh mozzarella made two doors down at Fav’s Italian Cucina? Just a suggestion.
“Yeah, but the garlic bread is really good,” Kristin says, and I nod.
Before leaving, we share a delicious espresso martini and an equally satisfying pear martini, or, as the menu says, “La Poire” martini. All that stop-and-go, stay-out-of-my-lane-you-fool!, rush-hour frustration has slipped away. Kristin and I smile at each other and raise a glass to happy hour.
O’Bricks Irish Pub & Martini Bar
427 Old Main St., Bradenton; 896-8860; obricks.com