Pub wins with tempting specials and remarkable consistency

I often overlook Monument Square as a place to visit for some eats, but I realize that as an error on my part. When Shay’s Grill Pub was offered as an option for food on a Friday before the Stache Pag at Portland House of Music, it seemed like the right time to get back to “the square”. We met some friends there in order to fill up on some grub and then enjoy the finest facial follicle fruit fathomable.

My wife and I were the first ones from our party to arrive and despite the fact that there were open tables and parties of two at four-tops, we were told that we would have to wait until everyone was there to be seated. The rest of our group finally arrived and we were surprised by one more than we had anticipated, bringing our total to five. We squeezed into a table which wasn’t that bad since it was only two on my side.

Everyone else ordered drinks right away with my wife requesting sangria, but I wanted to see a menu. The list of draft options were above the end of the bar and I noted that the daily special was talls for smalls which would save me a half dollar on a 20 oz. beer. The menu, however, had a list of $5 martinis and I knew their pineapple version was outstanding. Despite my desire to grab one of those, I eventually went with the Lord Hobo Boom Sauce, an American style IPA which I’d been wanting to try for a while.

The beer turned out to be pretty solid with plenty of that standard IPA hop flavor and a smooth finish. We all came to some decisions about what we wanted to eat while sipping and the waitress returned to take our orders. Before doing so though, she let us know that they had a food special that day – Bacon Jalapeno Mac and Cheese. That sent our table into a tailspin of indecision and we asked for more time.

We all decided to stick with our original choices. My wife went with the Tuna Melt Panini – solid white albacore tuna, American cheese, house made pickles, marble rye. I started with a half order of Mediterranean Nachos – tortilla chips with pesto, Mediterranean salsa, and mozzarella. My finisher was a Fried Haddock Sandwich – beer battered haddock, side of tarter sauce – with onion rings for an extra buck instead of fries or cole slaw.

Nachos came out first and they were the perfect size. The cheese was speckled with brown dots indicating a fine oven finish. It was hard to see much else underneath, but there were a few fresh tomatoes peeking out. I wasted no time in taking a bite and was utterly delighted. The salsa on the chips was made of capers, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives, tomatoes, garlic, and scallions and it gave a stunning flavor in combination with the pesto.

Chip after chip, my table mates and I relished every taste of the appetizer in front of us. There was plenty of cheese and the salsa was ultra fresh. I offered everyone to eat as much as they wanted, but was secretly hoping they would quit early and let me handle the majority of the nacho noshing. It all worked out well as I had to consume a sizable portion and even got to eat the last couple bites which were absolutely loaded with cheese and other toppings.

With all the nachos done, we didn’t have to wait long for the rest of the food. My rings looked crispy and the lettuce, tomato, and onion on the top of my bun seemed appropriate, but my haddock looked a little on the small side. Then, as I gave my lemon slice a squeeze and topped my fish with tarter, I realized it was actually the perfect size as my sauce fell on to the bottom bun instead of dripping out of my sandwich.

Onion rings were my first victim. They were as crisp as they appeared, nicely salted, and enhanced by the sririacha ketchup on the table. The sandwich was perfect with fresh fish and all the required accessories. It was exactly what one should expect from a pub fish sandwich and rings. My wife enjoyed her melt which is one of her all-time favorites.

All five of us worked diligently on our food with positive comments regarding it being thrown around freely. Just about everything eaten and one of the party decided to order the mac and cheese special for the table to share. I’m not sure we needed it, but we got it. I couldn’t help but notice immediately that the bowl had a large contingent of the smoked pork product throughout, including some whole slices.

A forkful of the mac provided a decadently cheesy, very bacon-y, lightly peppered pasta. I had a few bites and could eat no more. Others did the same and then some of it got boxed to take home. We were ready to head out so we got the bill and paid. The meal for my wife and I came to about $46 before tip.

Each visit to Shay’s reminds me of how much I like it. They are the consummate grill pub. Their menu is interesting, but not complicated, their food is exceptionally reliable, and their drinks are always spot on. I am particularly fond of their specials. Whether one of their dailys or just a random food option, they always seem to be worth considering. Head over when you want a solid, no-frills meal on the cheap which is sure to produce a full belly and a smile.

Stay hungry.

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Peter Blanchette

About Peter Blanchette

Peter Peter Portland Eater grew up in Lewiston, Maine and graduated from the University of Maine in Orono with a degree in English. After college, he left the state to work in Massachusetts, but the allure of a more comfortable life in his home state brought him back after eight years. Upon his return and after meeting his now wife ā€“ Mrs. Portlandeater, he slowly integrated himself into the Portland food scene by trying as many restaurants as he could afford. That and a desire to write for others again led him to start where he reviews restaurants and blogs about whatever Portland/Maine food topics he finds interesting.