Pop quiz: Where is the oldest operating Irish business outside of Ireland?
If you guessed Kansas City then, well, good on ya.
Browne’s Irish Marketplace on Pennsylvania Avenue was founded in 1887 by immigrants from County Kerry, and it’s now in its sixth generation of family ownership. Current owner Kerry Browne is the great-great-granddaughter of the original owners, and she now has a niece involved in the business. There are so many special things about Browne’s beyond its age—an incredible whisky selection and trad session jams among them—but the shop’s traditional Irish breakfasts are at the top of the list.
In the Before Times, Browne’s would make Irish breakfasts once a month most of the year, plus every Saturday leading up to St. Patrick’s Day. Those breakfasts were, along with other St. Patrick’s Day events, among the first things canceled last March with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Everybody sat together,” Kerry Browne says. “People would break out singing. It was great… We’ll have those again.”
In the meantime, cooking an Irish breakfast at home brings its own unique pleasures: Your home will be filled with the lingering aromas of strong black tea and hardy brown bread.
“We started offering the take-and-bake breakfasts at Christmas when people couldn’t go home for the holidays,” Browne says. “People said to us, ‘This is a little bit of what Mom would have in the morning.’ It’s a little bit of traveling when they can’t quite travel, too.”
Here’s what comes in the box ($54.95)—and, someday again, on the plate.
Eggs & Potatoes
There’s no particular way to cook them, and they are not included in the breakfast box at Browne’s, but they’re always on an Irish breakfast platter. Browne scrambles them and adds a little parsley and Irish cheese.
The homefry-style potatoes are cubed and fried with onions, peppers and seasoning.
Another beloved part of an Irish breakfast, not pictured here, is Irish coffee. Traditionally, a shot of Jameson and a little brown sugar are blended into a good strong coffee—Browne’s has a special blend (named 1887 for the year of its founding) made by The Roasterie. Add fresh cream and a little nutmeg.
Browne’s imports the top bread brand in Ireland, a whole wheat bread that’s a staple in pantries across the country.
Baked beans are an integral part of both Irish and English breakfasts—Americans could do worse than to adopt the habit, as they’re packed with fiber and protein. Batchelors is the top selling baked bean in Ireland while Heinz dominates the UK market. “That’s one of those political things,” Browne says. “It’s Coke and Pepsi. My sister put this basket together and she picked Batchelors, but I would have picked Heinz.” Both differ from American baked beans in having less sugar and using a thinner tomato sauce base with some Worcestershire sauce.
“My uncle said once it gives an acid to help balance out the flavors,” Browne says. “Once you grow up with it, it’s very normal. I would never have a fried tomato with anything else, but it just seems wrong to have an Irish breakfast without it.”
Irish bacon from the pork loin is leaner than American bacon and cut into thicker, wider squares. “It’s not as fatty or as salty,” Browne says. “When you cook it, you add a little oil. When thinking of our bacon, adding a little oil isn’t something you would do.”
Irish sausages are ground much finer than American sausages and typically use a breadcrumb filler to get the right texture. The dominant flavor is sage.
Not pictured here but normally included in Browne’s Irish breakfast are black and/or white pudding. Both are blood puddings.
Barry’s tea comes from Cork, on the far south of the island, and is the most popular tea in Ireland and among Browne’s customers. Rival Bewley’s, from Dublin, operates cafes and hotels and is therefore popular among Dubliners and tourists. “It gets political there, too—people who want Bewley’s want Bewley’s, but they’ll settle for Barry’s,” Browne says. “Anyone who doesn’t get their first choice will still say, ‘Well, I’ll take the other any day over American tea.’”
Browne’s carries eight different brands of Irish jam in flavors that are exotic to Americans, including rhubarb with ginger and black currant. Orange marmalade is a classic. “Their jams are pretty game-changing,” Browne says. “You can take a frozen waffle and put Irish jam on it and have a great meal.”
Soda Bread & Scones
Ireland doesn’t have many yeast breads because of the high humidity. Browne’s makes a number of different soda breads, including this one, called Holiday bread, which is flavored with raisins and nutmeg.
The shop also sells scone mix from Ireland, to which you only have to add water. “What’s good about it is it has the Irish flour,” Browne says. “People say, ‘Why can’t we get our scones the same?’ It’s because our flour is different here.”
Kerrygold Irish Butter
“It’s the best butter in the world,” Browne says of the golden block butter produced by a cooperative of Irish dairy farmers. “My family is all in Kerry and they have a dairy farm, so there’s a little bit of their milk in there. Kerry cows go higher in the hills, so they get more heather and the sweeter grains. The butter is naturally sweeter, and it’s better for you because it has more nutrients from the grasses.”