About this listing
Popular neighborhood spot serving Irish food
Borough : Bronx
Neighborhood : Woodlawn
Place Matters Profile
By Elena Martinez
Eileenâs Country Kitchen, a restaurant serving traditional Irish fare, is nestled among the storefronts on McLean Avenue, which is the border between Yonkers and the Bronx. The two principal thoroughfares near Eileen's -- Katonah Avenue in the Bronx and McLean Avenue in Yonkers -- both contain many Irish establishments and serve as the center of the local Irish residential and commercial enclave. Eileen's place is important because she is continuing the tradition of small "ethnic" restaurants that help sustain New Yorkersâ flavorful palettes.
By the early decades of the 20th century, the Irish had created settlements throughout the Bronx. By 1950 there were 450,000 first and second generation Irish in New York City. The 1965 immigration law slowed the settling of Irish in New York, but in the 1980s, immigration from Ireland to the U.S. again increased. During that decade, Ireland was going through very difficult times....
By Elena Martinez
Eileen’s Country Kitchen, a restaurant serving traditional Irish fare, is nestled among the storefronts on McLean Avenue, which is the border between Yonkers and the Bronx. The two principal thoroughfares near Eileen's -- Katonah Avenue in the Bronx and McLean Avenue in Yonkers -- both contain many Irish establishments and serve as the center of the local Irish residential and commercial enclave. Eileen's place is important because she is continuing the tradition of small "ethnic" restaurants that help sustain New Yorkers’ flavorful palettes.
By the early decades of the 20th century, the Irish had created settlements throughout the Bronx. By 1950 there were 450,000 first and second generation Irish in New York City. The 1965 immigration law slowed the settling of Irish in New York, but in the 1980s, immigration from Ireland to the U.S. again increased. During that decade, Ireland was going through very difficult times. From 1982 to 1987, the country's unemployment rate went from 9% to 19%, reaching 30% for young people. In the late 1980s it is estimated that twenty to forty thousand undocumented Irish settled in New York City. In response to this jump in immigration, numerous service organizations opened to aid incoming immigrants, including the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, which has a branch just off of Katonah Avenue. In the 1990s, this trend reversed itself. Between 1995 and 1999, Ireland had the fastest growing economy in Europe, and earned the moniker "Celtic Tiger."
Eileen Mannion, the owner of Eileen’s Country Kitchen, and her husband Eugene, came to New York City in 1987. She is from County Galway and he is from Donegal. About a third of County Donegal lies in the Gaeltacht -- these are regions where Irish (Gaelic) is more widely spoken than English. Eileen remembers, "At the time I left Ireland there was no talk of the Celtic Tiger, and like most immigrants of my generation I wanted to see what the U.S. had to offer." Eugene comments, "We were economic refugees at the time. Things were bad in Ireland. That was the thing to do at the time, just leave. So this is like a second home to us. America has been very good to us Irish. This is where Irish people emigrate to."
Eileen opened her restaurant in 1998. The restaurant can be considered a tribute to her mother, from whom she learned traditional home cooking. "She’s the best," Eileen says. "Your mother’s cooking is always the best. I try to stick to whatever my mother used to do and that means very little seasoning, but food which is cooked well with the best of meat." Eileen's mother also encouraged her in her business ventures. Speaking of her parents, Eileen says, "They never held back -- they encouraged us: 'Make hay when the sun shines is what they used to say.'"
At Eileen’s, all the food is made fresh daily. Not all of the dishes are traditionally Irish, but many are, such as: breakfast plates with Irish ham and rashers (Irish bacon); boiled bacon and cabbage; bangers and mash (Irish sausage and beans); chicken curry or roasted chicken with a Guinness gravy; raisin scones and soda bread; shepherd’s pie (potato crust with beef, vegetables, and gravy); fish and chips (cod, chip, and bachelor beans); and of course corned beef and cabbage*. The restaurant is open seven days a week, twenty four hours a day. It is especially popular on the weekends. Longtime Woodlawn resident Kathleen Mahon commented that every Sunday this is where everyone comes for breakfast after returning from Mass.
The restaurant also serves as an informal information spot. While new immigrants have organizations set up to ease the transition, such as the Emerald Isle and Aisling Irish Center that is located next door to Eileen’s, important news about jobs, lodging, and more gets shared at Eileen's too.
Stopping by the restaurant is like entering a country kitchen. It has a very comfortable, rustic look inside -- the crossbeams and wallpaper give the feel of an old home. There are booths and tables on both sides as you enter; the walls are decorated with small framed paintings, coffee mugs, dried flowers, and other small items one might find in a kitchen. There are even small murals of countryside scenes which were painted by Eileen herself. Even when it is crowded it still feels comfortable, and the space can accommodate large parties of diners. Towards the back there is additional counter space and some smaller tables.
The Mannion’s own two other establishments in addition to Eileen's. One is a little deli and import store across McLean Avenue called An Siopa Beag, which means "the small shop" in Irish. Eileen cooks all the hot foods for the deli and the catering business. Like other shops in the neighborhood, the store also carries products imported from Ireland, ranging from food products to newspapers from Ireland’s different counties. Eddie Nallen, the owner of Tri-Edy’s Deli on Katonah Avenue, which opened in 1979 and was one of the first Irish import stores in the area, knows how important these products are to the new generation of Irish immigrants. According to Eddie, the older generation who live in the neighborhood and came here in the 1950s didn’t have access to these types of stores and imported products, so they ate American foods and assimilated faster into mainstream culture. When the younger generation arrives nowadays, the shops are already here and they can purchase the food they miss from home.
Eileen's husband Eugene is half-owner, along with Eileen’s brother, of the bar Catalpa*, located on 233rd St. (Bronx). Eileen also cooks food for the bar. "In the bar we serve food from 5:00 onwards. You know, the lads come home from work and want a pint of beer. I give them complimentary food like beef stew and chicken curry also."
In recognition of her hard work in the community, Eileen has won the Dreamer of Dreams award from a local paper, which is given to people who have an idea and make it happen.
What is most important to Eileen is that her restaurant serves as a place where people can come in, relax, and get a good meal with good service. She feels everyone is always in a rush and eating fast food, so her goal is to give her customers something different because as she says, "Life is passing you by as you are making plans." Eileen’s Country Kitchen is a place where one can sit and enjoy life and the food.
*The Catalpa is named after a famous ship that rescued six Fenians from Freemantle, Australia in the 1870s. Fenianism took hold in Ireland between 1858 and 1866. The Fenians wanted independence after nearly 700 years of British rule. To aid in the revolt against the British, many Fenians enlisted in the British army. Among the 26,000 British Army troops stationed in Ireland, over 8,000 were Fenians. Six deserters who tried to organize a revolt from within were arrested and sent to Freemantle Gaol. In 1875 Captain George Anthony, a Quaker, of the whaling ship Catalpa, sailed from Massachusetts to free the Freemantle Six. To read more about this story see, The Voyage of the Catalpa: A Perilous Journey and Six Irish Rebels’ Escape to Freedom (2002), by Peter F. Stevens, Carroll & Graf Publishers, New York.
*Corned Beef: When most people think of traditional Irish food, they think of corned beef and cabbage. Yet, while cabbage has always been a part of Irish cuisine, corned beef has not been (though now it may be easier to find because it is made for tourists). Eileen had to learn to cook it when she came to New York. She remembers, "Corned beef and cabbage. What’s corned beef? We never had that at home. All we had was boiled bacon."
Personal communication with Kathleen Mahon, August 14th, 2003.
Interview with Eileen and Eugene Mannion by Elena Martínez, October 29th, 2003.
Interview with Eddie Nallen by Elena Martínez, September 11th, 2003.