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When Kristin Rowe opened her café, she set herself one lofty goal: to be able to say that Mrs Reid’s made the best breakfast roll in Dublin 8.
All of Dublin was another possibility, she says. But that would have been too tricky to prove.
There is no shortage of places in the Liberties serving sourdough bread or avocadoes, she says. “And don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against people who eat avocado.”
But introducing yet another spot with yet another menu like that seemed pointless, says Rowe. “I wanted to see what was missing from where I was from.”
She didn’t want to reinvent the wheel either, she says. “Everybody is doing something that has already been done.”
Instead, she looked to something simple and beloved, on which she could leave her own distinctive mark.
Locally sourced hearty food was in short supply, she says. “Like, as in a really savage, decent breakfast sandwich.”
Hearty and Homely
Mrs Reid’s is found on the ground floor of the Iveagh Trust where Kevin Street meets New Bride Street.
It neighbours the off-beat restaurant Assassination Custard, and looks out onto the red-brick Bishop Street flats.
The interior is cosy and warm, the steam from the coffee machine clouding its windows. Behind the counter, the menu promises homely foods, breakfast and beef brisket rolls, and a pie with mashed potatoes.
On a Friday in the middle of November, around lunchtime, a small middle-aged man strolled in, huddling himself under a puffy black jacket.
“What are you doing back in here?” said one of the staff members, stood by the till. She grins, her arms crossed.
He is in for another breakfast roll, he says.
Rowe doesn’t want her cafe to simply be a place where food is served. She wants it to feel like a neighbourly spot, she says. “The whole thing is to eat, drink, come in and have a chat.”
Around the walls is Liberties-themed décor. A photograph of Francis Street and the former Tivoli Theatre, a painting of an aged house, and the cover of a recent Iveagh Trust report.
Rowe has lived in the Iveagh Trust Building for the past eight years, she says, and grew up in the area on New Street. “I’m a Liberties girl, born and bred in Dublin 8.
Naming the café Mrs Reid’s was a tribute to her grandmother, she says. “I was brought up in an area where we knew people by their married name: Mrs Kelleher, Mrs Carey, Mrs Brannigan.”
Her grandmother passed away several years ago, Rowe says. “She was a hearty woman, always had like a stew on or a coddle. Always had a dinner on. She had 14 kids.”
She exuded warmth, Rowe says. “That’s what I wanted to give back, and I would have a few of her friends who’d come in, have a cup of tea. It’s nice to have something that represents her.”
Giving It A Shot
Rowe’s background is in food and hospitality, she says. “I had always wanted to do my own thing though. Something nice, warm and that’s mine.”
The thought first came to her in 2015, when she began eyeing up this exact spot on the curved footpath where Kevin Street meets New Bride Street.
When it didn’t work out, she turned her attention to a nearby post office. “Maybe I’d go down and make a quirky post office café, put the menus on envelopes and stamps.”
Until early 2019, the space was used for beauty and tanning salons. Then over the first lockdown, Rowe noticed it was vacant, she says.
During 2021, she worked up a few ideas, drawing partly on the loss of Gerry’s, the café on Montague Lane, which closed that July that year, she says.
“I was saddened to see that go,” she says, “and with that, the area was kinda missing this neighbourhood café vibe, where you get the breakfast sandwich, a kicking pie and mash.”
Says Rowe: “I just wanted to bring that warmness back.”
This past October, Mrs Reid’s was launched. For the first two weeks, she trialled different menu items, she says. “We killed off the chicken and chorizo sandwich, and we’ll give everything a shot for three weeks.”
Alongside avocados and sourdough, the other thing she swears off is a rotating soup of the day.
“The roasted pepper soup has taken off,” she says. “It’s on another level, and if you’re doing a really good soup, why would you change it every other day?”
Send Them Off Full
On the last Tuesday in November, at three o’clock, Rowe and her staff are on the brink of closing up.
It has been a day of breakfast rolls, she says. “But I have exactly the makings of one more left.”
The roll is densely packed with two peppery sausages, two fried eggs, rashers, a homemade relish with caramelised onion and a creamy white pudding deconstructed to be spread like butter.
The produce is from neighbouring butchers, and crusty bread from Catherine’s Bakery on Meath Street. “I wanted to keep it as local as possible,” she says.
Rowe says that when she pitched the idea of a spreadable white pudding to the café’s co-owner, his response was disbelief. “He couldn’t understand me. Spreadable? But it has to be soft. You don’t want lumps of pudding.”
Her thinking to hone a breakfast roll was in part inspired by the scale of construction work going on in the nearby area.
It is a roll designed to get someone through the day without needing to think about food until the night, she says. “It’ll really fill ya and you’ll probably need a nap afterwards.”
It couples with a chocolatey-toned coffee supplied from a roaster in Cork. Rowe’s attitude towards her beverages is similar to that which she wants to inject into her food: unpretentious and high quality.
Early on, she caught her barista worrying about adding a small piece of artwork onto the foam of the lattes and cappuccinos, she says.
Her immediate response was to ask, “Why do you want latte art if you’re putting a lid on it?”
She trails off into laughter. “I’m going to put that on a t-shirt for the staff,” she says.