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The Grangecon Café
Tel. 045 403982

The stillness in the air was almost tangible, the only sound was that of the tiny brook gurgling between banks of sally and russet-barked dogwood before it disappeared through a stone arch and continued under the road. A chicken-wire sculpture of an Irish wolfhound sat on the wall overlooking this scene, a bright wintry sun cast long shadows across the fields and rolling hills, a pub on either side of the T junction, a row of houses facing them. 'Perhaps I shouldn't have described this as a one-horse town,' said Sarah Hussey, 'there's probably more horses than people here. There's a stud farm over there,' she pointed into the distance, 'another one over there and one just up the road there.'
Not a lot moves through Grangecon, it's not on a major route to anywhere in particular. If you're here, you're here for a reason, and that day we were there to taste the menu of the Grangecon Food store and Café, which is in the end house of the terrace. Architraves decorate the tops of the windows and door, and if you look carefully you can see the understated sign which announced its presence. Well that, and the three cars parked outside, which we joined.
Inside you find the food store, a counter stuffed with all manner of provender and two wooden tables. One was occupied - surprisingly by people we knew - so naturally we took the other beside the window. Shelves in front of me were filled with organic and home-made produce, various pastas, olive oils, preserves and dainties, while a shiny espresso machine dominated the counter. The air was heavy with the scent of fresh food, a scent that gets my gastric juices flowing. The menu was on the table, the most expensive item on it was the lasagne at €6.70. There's no wine list as there's no wine license, so we started with two glasses of refreshing home-made lemonade. A blackboard with the day's specials leant against the display counter. From the board Sarah picked the soup as a starter - a thick, filling soup of vegetables and beans. I chose the organic bap filled with ham, cheese and chutney. To follow, Sarah picked the quiche Lorraine and I chose the Brie and Leek tart. With our order in, we left the non-smoking room to sit on the wall outside in the sunshine and shared a cigarette.
No doubt, the country was looking beautiful this day - a cool wind was the only sign of winter. The only break in the deep silence was the occasional passing car. At times like these being in Ireland seems inordinately sensible. Back inside I looked around the room a bit. The walls were hung with some framed photographs which were for sale, a fridge was filled with pre-prepared meals for sale, and I examined the display counter. Fresh mozzarella and a leg of prosciutto caught my eye, and thankfully I was just in time to change the filling of my bap to those two things. Two more glasses of the home-made lemonade accompanied the starters, both of which had that unmistakable taste of fresh and home-made, with good ingredients. Best of all, accompanying my bap fillings were roasted aubergine slices that had been marinated with olive oil. As good as my Zia Rosa's. Filling enough, too, but we soldiered on to our main courses.
Both the tart and the quiche came with a salad of organic lettuce and there was extra virgin olive oil already on the table for dressing it. Both these dishes very good, but I did prefer the leek and Brie tart, that particular combination of flavours seems to work very well. Just for change we had a bottle of Crinnaghtaun apple juice, also home-made from organic apples, which according to the label is a family run affair.
There were desserts as well to choose from; apple pie, cheesecake, flapjacks and lemon tart, all made on the premises. We were both replete and ordered no more food, but I had to have an espresso from the hissing, gleaming machine on the counter and Sarah had a cappuccino. While we drank our coffees we were ruminating on how times change. Once it was hard enough to get a decent espresso in our capital, now it can be found in the southern tip of Wicklow. Good, honest food like this is rare enough, but being able to find it in a place as small as Grangecon is really remarkable. If this is what is meant by creeping globalisation, then I for one am totally in favour of it.
While we'd been eating our lunch there had been a steady stream of people coming in to buy the breads, the home-made biscuits, the ready-made meals. Obviously I wasn't going to go home without a goody-bag of my own, so I picked out some bread, some of the roasted aubergines and some crispy rye biscuits. Only when I went to pay did I find my wallet devoid of folding money. They only took cash, and I wondered out loud where the nearest cash dispenser was. 'Baltinglass.' said Sarah, rooting in her bag and taking out her wallet. Bless her heart, she paid up smilingly.
Now I realise that not many readers are likely to find themselves in Grangecon, but it's not far from the main Carlow road or the N81. Apart from the fact that there's pretty countryside to be seen, a detour at lunchtime would be well worth it. There's commitment and enthusiasm in spades in this little café, it's spotlessly clean and the food is good. Not only that, the prices are most reasonable; our food, the endless refills of lemonade, the apple juice and the coffees came to just €26.65. It doesn't get much better than that.
© Paolo Tullio 2002

Reviews in this section are from "The food and wine net".