Lunch, Anyone? 

Celtic Crossing and Los Compadres: for a mouthful under $10.

Jimmy Whidden at Poplar Perk'N

Justin Fox Burks

Jimmy Whidden at Poplar Perk'N

The last time Celtic Crossing owner D.J. Naylor visited Ireland, he feasted on stew at the home of a relative. He loved the richness and flavor of the sirloin, slowly cooked with parsley, onions, carrots, thyme, Worcestershire sauce, beef stock, and a hefty amount of Guinness ale. (Four pints, to be exact, in a pot of stew that makes 25 servings!)

"It was so good, I brought the recipe back," Naylor says. "Now it's the most Irish dish we have on menu."

Stop by the pub in Cooper-Young for lunch on Thursdays, and the Guinness beef stew is only $5.95, one of two daily lunch specials along with a grilled chicken Cobb wrap (think Cobb salad in a spinach tortilla). On Fridays, the specials include a fish sandwich or Morais meatloaf served with peas, carrots, and mashed potatoes.

The $5.95 specials are offered Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and change every day. "We want to keep the idea that our lunches are a very good value," Naylor says. "You can eat lunch at Celtic Crossing, have a tea, and only spend $7 or $8."

Like the Guinness beef stew, many of the specials are new to the menu. The Paddy melt on Mondays is seasoned beef smothered with caramelized onions and Munster cheese on Texas toast. On Tuesdays, the tenderloin sandwich piles thinly sliced tenderloin, demi-glaze, and cucumber-onion relish on a whole-wheat hoagie. There's also the Celtic R.L.T., or rasher, lettuce, and tomato.

"Rasher is Irish bacon," Naylor explains. "It is a lot like Canadian bacon but larger and very lean."

Celtic Crossing, 903 S. Cooper (274-5151)

Flyer senior editor John Branston stopped by Los Compadres the other night for dinner, and two days later at lunch, he was still talking about his meal. "It was good, and it only cost $7," he said, flabbergasted at the price. "A $7 dinner on a Saturday night!"

A popular Mexican restaurant for many Midtowners, Los Compadres reopened a few weeks ago in a renovated storefront on Poplar Avenue about a mile east of its former location. "We had to move because the property was foreclosed," explained waiter Tony Motta. "We spent two months getting this place ready."

Securing a liquor license took time, because the new restaurant shares an intersection with East High School. Remodeling was time-intensive, too. Now the walls are apple green, a full bar stretches across the back of the restaurant, and an outdoor patio with tables and umbrellas is ready for warmer weather.

Los Compadres has added some new dishes as well, which are highlighted on the menu and well worth trying. The sopa de Camaron ($8) is a large, fragrant, and spicy bowl of shrimp, shredded cabbage, baby carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and cilantro, served with lime and a wedge of avocado to turn down the heat. An appetizer called Choriqueso ($5.25) is equally delicious: a mound of chips topped with chopped chorizo, onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro, and just the right amount of queso blanco served sizzling hot in a cast-iron skillet.

The restaurant, open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., also offers plenty of pork, seafood, and vegetarian dinners, a children's menu for $3.75, and lunch specials ranging from $5 to $7.75. If you have trouble deciding what to order, go for the Los Compadres Special Dinner. It offers a little of everything for $10.95: chalupa, chile relleno, beef taco, enchilada, tamale, rice, and beans.

Los Compadres, 3295 Poplar, Suite 101 (458-5731)

Blame it on Facebook. That's where Jimmy Whidden read a friend's lament in early September about High Point Coffee closing at Poplar and Perkins.

"I told her to take the comment off her page, because I wanted to jump on it immediately," Whidden said, laughing. "This is a great location. I knew a business could succeed."

By Thanksgiving, Whidden had secured a lease for the building and reopened as Poplar Perk'N (how cute is that?), serving a menu of coffees, lattes, baked goods, apple cider, and smoothies.

A newbie to the coffee business — Whidden had been a sales manager for a local importer — he hired back the much-loved morning barista team of Bobby Marino and Brian Hansford. "Between the two of them, they have nine years of experience," Whidden said. "They know everything about coffee."

It was Marino and Hansford who taste-tested beans and steered Whidden toward Gusta Java, a fair-trade roaster in Jackson, Tennessee. "They are a small local roaster, and we loved the taste of the coffee," Whidden said.

Business has been brisk from the get-go for this friendly, neighborhood spot, especially for hot chocolate and white mocha, a combination of espresso, white chocolate, and a little vanilla. "There's something about white mocha that everybody loves," said barista Bill Weatherly. "From grandmothers to firemen, it's the universal favorite."

Poplar Perk'N is open seven days a week: Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. And there's one more plus: free WiFi.

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