Places that Matter

Eileen's Country Kitchen

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Eileen Condon
Eileen Condon
Eileen Condon
Popular neighborhood spot serving Irish food
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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.