Josie Kelly’s Public House
Irish (and all other) eyes are smiling at this Somers Point staple
JOSIE Kelly’s Public House in Somers Point is known for plenty of things – great cocktails, cozy Irish ambience, loads of local music – but it would be impossible to describe the place without a nod to their food.
“The thing I love about our menu is that everything is thoughtful. Everything is made from scratch, we prep everything in-house, and it’s diverse enough for everyone,” said Kathleen Lloyd, who owns Josie Kelly’s with her husband, Dermot. “The pub has really been a reflection of things we like ourselves. It’s inspired by places we’ve gone to, and really nice meals we’ve had or an appetizer we’re inspired by from a vacation.”
Josie Kelly’s is already firmly ingrained as a local establishment, so it’s particularly tough to believe it’s only been here four years. Yet it wasn’t all that long ago that the building, originally from 1908, stood empty.
“It was completely derelict for three years before we got the building,” said Kathleen.
Ironically, as Kathleen and Dermott were in the process of purchasing the building, which was owned by the Previti family of Atlantic City and famously housed Mac’s Restaurant for decades, they were buying their own local home– which was also owned by the Previti’s.
“It’s very special,” said Kathleen. “The Previti’s were also a husband and wife team, and they were having the same conversations – about dinner service, employees, Christmas parties – in the same space.”
Josie Kelly’s is meaningful beyond that unique twist – named for Dermot’s grandmother, Josephine Kelly, the restaurant is full of homages to tradition and the past, with old whiskey decanters and models leftover from the Previti family decorating the space, and recipes from Dermot’s family.
“Dermot’s mother Margaret is a retired culinary school teacher in Ireland. When we opened, she came over for almost the whole summer and helped develop the menu and train our cook,” said Kathleen. “It’s all traditional Irish fare and our bread is her recipe. Her name is reflected in the seafood chowder, Margaret’s Seafood Chowder, which is a really special dish we do, and in Margaret’s Chocolate Mousse Cake.”
While Margaret’s influence was hardly a one-time thing – Dermot’s mother will be returning to the kitchen as Chef Michael Brennan, who has been with Josie Kelly’s for two and a half years, transitions into his own restaurant.
Dermot and Kathleen are both very hands-on. In fact, this isn’t the first time they’ve worked in a restaurant together. Prior to opening Josie Kelly’s, Dermot, who was trained in hospitality in Birmingham, England, was running multiple RiRa Irish Pubs, and Kathleen, a former hairdresser, was a RiRa bartender.
“Dermot and I are both very involved with the concept, with the way we want the kitchen to go,” says Kathleen. “Our formula is really simple and approachable food done really well and really fresh.”
It’s why you can find casual fare like the Cork City Sandwich, a buttermilk brined fried chicken sandwich topped with a caper aioli and crunchy green and red peppers and red onions that was inspired by a night out in Cork, alongside with more formal dinners like The Dublin Lawyer, a traditional Irish dish of lobster, lump crab, shrimp, and Jonah crab claws over mushroom risotto and finished in a delicate whiskey cream sauce.
“They call it the Dublin Lawyer because it’s very expensive and only lawyers could afford it way back when,” said Kathleen. “It’s something that’s very fancy. You’d find it in a Manor House or a castle in Ireland.”
In between the casual and formal are plenty of traditional Irish fare options like Fish and Chips, Bangers and Mash and Beef and Guinness Pie, as well as potato leek soup, Irish Cobb Salad, and signature entrees like the Grilled Hanger Steak – a six ounce steak with sweet corn succotash, cauliflower puree and chimichurri – and Baked Salmon done with a soy glaze, parsnip puree and served with chilled quinoa salad with tomato and cucumber.
Josie Kelly’s is known for a fantastic burger (after trying hundreds of variations, Dermot and Kathleen got a near perfect burger with Cooper sharp American cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and onion on a grilled brioche bun). But they also provide delicious vegan and vegetarian options like the Fab Cakes, a vegan crab cake made with hearts of palm and artichokes (truly delish) and the Garden Pie, an animal by product free take on the traditional Shepherd’s pie, made with lentils, peas and carrots, kale, vegetable gravy and mashed potatoes.
Like their food menu, the drink menu can accommodate those seeking a traditionally poured Guinness or a piping hot Irish Coffee (made with Irish Whiskey floated at the top of black coffee and topped with hand-whipped whipped cream) to a nonalcoholic IPA or another alcohol-free craft libation.
There is something for everyone at Josie Kelly’s. Whether you’re there for the camaraderie of a stateside Irish Pub where it’s not uncommon for customers to bring their instruments and start playing together on Sunday afternoons, to watch The World Cup over a “Happiness is a Warm Gun” smoked Old Fashioned, or indulge in a traditional Irish meal Josie Kelly’s is the perfect place for good food, good drinks, and good times.
Find this and more in the Nov/Dec issue of OC Mag