Fair Play Joe!

Photo courtesy Joe Donnelly

By Kathrin Kobus

One chicken dish with brown basmati rice and kale or spinach sautéed on the side, spiced up with spring onions and a few slices of chilli pickled cucumber, that’s what this reporter had for lunch despite it being Pancake Tuesday.

It was the recommendation of the house by Joe Donnelly, who together with his wife has overhauled the menu for the Fair Play Café and has a five-year- plan to go that extra mile and become carbon-neutral with solar panels on the roof.

One step at a time. Gone from the menu at the Fair Play Café are burgers and lasagne; their replacements are what Joe Donnelly calls Signature Salads, with benefits of being healthy, nutritious and of course delicious.

“It was a necessary step and yes, we did lose some customers but overall the reactions have been positive,” he said.  

The plot adjacent to the Café is about one third of an acre in size, roughly 1,300 square metres. There, the future food stuff for the kitchen grows and flourishes in pots, plots, raised beds and the green house.

The latter is home during February and March for the seedlings to grow into tiny green sprouts that can be planted in the soil once that magic day in March is reached.

“Wait for it, nature knows the 21st March is coming and after that it virtually explodes and leaves the dark winter months behind,” Joe Donnelly explained with quiet enthusiasm and he was looking forward to see the minuscule seeds nurtured and growing into small green seedlings to be planted out.

Plants and veggies grown on the premises’ backyard garden, range from aubergine and courgettes to salad leaves and kale, an ingredient that takes centre stage in the signature salads. “We all remember kale when the mother would boil the soul out of it and we were forced to eat it. But the thing is: kale doesn’t have to be boiled to mush, much better and more nutritious to stir-fry or blanch it”.

Another try-out for taste buds is the home-pickled cucumber. “We pickle our own cucumbers overnight, not the standard vinegar or lemon-based, but in orange juice with a hint of chilli”.  The more conventional kitchen herbs are within arms’ reach as well. “We will move the herbs much closer to the kitchen area, so they can be picked or cut literally just a few feet away”. That will include parsley, basil, chives and so on.

All that is happening under the watchful eyes of the next generation attending the Anchorage playschool. “They see how different food grows and that it really doesn’t just come out of a packet. Of course, they can also help us a bit”.

Maybe strawberries that you watched slowly ripening over a couple of days just taste that bit better than from a shop-bought punnet. But there is also the business of inspection too. Every food-producing and serving outlet has to meet with HSE approval.

“The environmental health officer came, I had invited them two weeks before we opened again. And he was happy all around”. Joe Donnelly has a five-year plan to get the Fair-Play Café as self-sufficient as possible. “I want solar panels installed here up on the roof so we can run the boiler, green house and so on maybe with our own energy“.

To whet your appetite here is one tasty recipe to try out: 

Kale Caesar Chicken Signature Salad 

Ingredients: Poached Herbed Chicken served warm with Crispy Back Bacon, Sun Blushed Tomato, Crunchy Croutons, Baby Kale, Our own Caesar Dressing and Grated Parmesan

The Signature Salads come with two different prize tags €8.95 or €6.50 (with or without brown basmati rice)