Nostalgia is a wonderful thing and, with September being a time to welcome the students back, I found myself revisiting the places we used to go when we were the young kids on the block. Students are always notoriously hard up, so here are three of the longest serving and best value eateries in the city, as good today as the day they opened. Certainly you could make some extra money to afford a meal in one of the fancier restaurants, maybe by working part-time or starting your own religion online and asking for donations to build your place of worship. Otherwise just go to one of these places when you realise that plain pasta does not constitute a complete meal. For all of you new to Galway, start off in any one of these and you will not go wrong.
For anybody who has been knocking around for a few years like myself, a visit to one of these will transport you back to a time when Salthill was the centre of the universe with nights spent at the likes of Jazz Juice, Sex Kitchen, or Naked. If you had a television it was rented from O’Connor’s. NUIG was UCG and GMIT was RTC, everyone wore jumpers, and you could drive down Shop Street.
The Homeplate, Mary Street
This restaurant is small, friendly, and unpretentious with real 'taste of home' food. Open since 1992, The Homeplate is my personal favourite from back in the day.
Filling the rumbly tummies of students for 20 years, this place is the perfect little cubbyhole. The hearty, casual, menu is a good match for the cafe’s relaxed character and almost everything is made in-house.
Its breakfast was always legendary and my own weakness in the olden times was the meatball sub that required at least a dozen napkins to clean yourself up afterwards. Alas, the meatball sub is gone now, but the ciabatta sandwiches are great and the all day breakfast fry is still as good today as it was then with the same brilliant value at €8.25.
Be warned though, go there hungry. The fry is big, very, very, tasty, and known to keep you full for the day. The philly cheesesteak or chicken parmesan sandwiches come with home fries, soup, or salad, and at €6.95 are still pocket friendly. The burgers are always a good choice and the menu has a few salads, curries, and pasta dishes to round things off. If you are a bottomless pit and are still hungry after that, there are a few desserts on the chalkboard every day, chocolate and carrot cakes, or even sometimes some Nutella-filled crepes for €3.50. They are a particularly good deal if you are including a tea or coffee with them for just €4.
The service is sweet and friendly and there is even a 10 per cent student discount. Try this place once and I guarantee you will be returning regularly for the next 20 years.
Fat Freddy's, Quay Street
Other restaurants come and go but Fat Freddy's (named after Fat Freddy Freekowtski, one of the fictional Freak Brothers for anyone interested in trivia ) is a constant and a Galway institution since the early eighties. One of the first meals I ever ate after moving to Galway was there and if I remember correctly (and I do ), I had the tagliatelle carbonara with garlic bread. It is still on the menu to this day if you would like to try it for yourself. Other menu items have changed with the times.
You can get a lovely breakfast here, porridge or granola with yoghurt and mixed berries; toasted bagel with a choice of fillings; beans or eggs on toast; a bacon or sausage sandwich, and with all of those choices you will still get change from a fiver. It has a very well priced 'back to basics' lunch menu from Monday to Friday with pizza, pasta, salads, toasted sandwiches, and wraps with soup, all quite cheap and cheerful.
In the evenings among the starters are breaded camembert, chicken wings, layered chill beef nachos, and a tasty mezze plate for two to share by cozy candlelight. Mains are enchilada and quesadilla and various pasta and sauces. However, the pizzas and calzone are the stars of the show, made in front of you to order in the open kitchen from Fat Freddy’s own recipe dough and tomato sauce. The small pizzas are large, the large pizzas are huge. They are typically priced around €13.50 for the 9" and up to the top price of €15.95 for the largest and meatiest of the 12" variety.
The topping choices available are, as you would expect, mushrooms, olives, ham, and onions. The gourmet options, on the other hand, are a little more adventurous than most — roast chicken, brie, seafood, or slices of banana. Not to worry though, there is dessert in the form of hot chocolate fudge cake, cheesecake, and ice-cream for afters (if that banana on your pizza was not enough to satisfy your sweet tooth ).
For special student occasions (passing exams or a cheque from home ) the house wine is available by the glass for €4.95 with a small selection of Old and New World wines available by the bottle, all hovering in and around the €20 mark. It also offers a 10 per cent student discount.
Couch Potatas, Abbeygate Street
This restaurant is a must for baked potato lovers. The premise is simple. They bake giant potatoes with a fluffy interior and crisp skin. You pick what you want on, in, or around your big spud — instant happiness.
Holding its own since 1990, it is a bright, square, room with pine tables and chairs and a big front window where you can watch the hustle and bustle of Abbeygate Street going about its daily business. Service is very quick as you might expect with such a well practised menu. There are starters of Mexican-style chips and dips for sharing or try the Couch’s garlic bread with cheese which is famous for good reason.
It always has a couple of good specials like chicken and broccoli pie or lasagne, typically priced around €9.95. These are served with a nice fresh side salad and, of course, a spud. The filled baked potato main courses all have a lot of the quirky names people of a certain vintage may remember from their early days (The Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, anybody? ) and come in about €9.95 also. Some are themed, such as the tropical pizza baked potato filled with ham, pineapple, tomato sauce, onions, and mozzarella, or the Indian korma curry sauce with spices and coconut milk. Fillings are many and varied, pretty much anything you would ever think of putting in a potato is offered, coleslaw, cheese sauce, beans, and the like.
There are generous salad mains also, yellowfin tuna, avocado and hummus, that come with a choice of brown bread or — yep, you guessed it — a baked potato. The desserts are well made (though not with potato ) and homely banoffi cakes and apple crumbles if you get that far. Wine and beer are on offer if you are splurging and they also do takeaway at a reduced price for the leaner times.