Sami Taweel’s pub Doherty’s provides a gathering place, brews and Irish-American food in Cary and Apex
Written by Addie Ladner
Photography by Eamon Queeney
“I’ve been a wild rover for many’s the year
And I’ve spent all me money
on whiskey and beer
But now I’m returning with
gold in great store
And I never will play the
wild rover no more”
Sami Taweel may never have set foot in Ireland, but he knows this Irish tune all too well—he’s worked in or managed Irish pubs in the Triangle since he was eighteen. Taweel and his business partner, Donavan Favre, along with a dedicated staff, run Doherty’s, two friendly pubs known as the Cheers of Cary and Apex.
Taweel says a true Irish pub is as much about hospitality as it is the pours and plates; a public house as a gathering place. “Before mass communication, the farmers would go to the village pub to get their news,” says David McCutchen of Apex, originally from Limerick Ireland. “It’s often misconstrued that the Irish are drinkers. Sure, there are drinkers, but the pub is more of a place for social gathering.” And that’s what Taweel tells his staff: “We don’t have customers—we have guests. How do you want them to feel?”
Taweel learned this ethos from two men: his father, who owned several delis in Virginia, and Michael Doherty, the longtime Irish pub owner known for opening the former Tir na Nog and Con- nolly’s in the late 1990s. Taweel worked under him at Connolly’s, first as a server and part-time bartender while he was in college (he graduated from N.C. State with a degree in computer engineering), then full-time, working his way up to manager. Then, a few twists in the road: Doherty sold the pubs to spend more time with his family, eventually the pubs closed and Taweel took a corporate job.
But Taweel, Favre and Doherty missed the old public house vibe. So in 2012, they opened a new place just off High House Road in Cary, named after the O.G. Triangle Irishman. (Doherty is no longer financially involved.) The goal was to combine the conviviality of an Irish pub with the service and food you’d get at a fine restaurant. They opened a second location in Apex in 2014 and recently added a food truck, known as Doherty’s Paddy Wagon.
On a recent Wednesday night at the Cary location, it’s clear that people make themselves at home. Customers down the perfect double pour of Guinness (tilt the glass 45 degrees and pour 75% of the brew, let it settle for a few minutes, then pour the rest) discussing English Premier League soccer. A family is enjoying their weekly meal out. “These are the best wings in the Triangle—and I’m from Buffalo,” says the dad. “We remember when Sami was our server at Connolly’s,” his wife chimes in. Some frequent for the food, others for the music. “There’s a huge bluegrass scene here, but I love Irish music,” another customer says, over the hum of fiddle and mandolin from local Celtic band Barrowburn. He takes a generous bite of his whiskey burger and gives a satisfied smile.
The menu combines contemporary America with rustic Ireland, and Taweel prides himself on the fact that it’s all fresh. Housemade potato chips and brisket braised in Guinness serve as their version of nachos. A girl with greasy fingers requests, “more egg rolls please!”—she’s eating the contents of a Reuben bundled together in a crisp parcel, served with housemade thousand island dressing.
The bestseller, consumed in copious amounts by patrons, is the Irish classic (and food critic Greg Cox-approved) beer-battered fish and chips. Taweel says the secret is their less-is-more approach: “Less batter, a less oily fish, and less time in the fryer.” Hearty Shepherd’s Pie is another favorite—but if you’re from Ireland, it’d be cottage pie. “People here aren’t really into lamb, so we do it with beef,” says general manager Sean Mullen, who moved here from Roscommon, Ireland. “When I started going to pubs in Ireland, you’d go to a restaurant for dinner and a pub for drinks. We have both quality food and pub culture here,” he says.
And if you happen to find yourself there for Saint Patrick’s Day, when the crowd spills into the parking lot, lively as the Temple Bar area of Dublin, you might be waited on not just by the staff, but by the customers. “We’re a community, not just a bar. If my regulars see a napkin on the floor, they pick it up,” says Taweel. “Everyone takes ownership in this place.”
1 cup water
1 cup diced celery
1/3 lb unsalted butter, cubed
11/2 cups flour
11/2 cups sliced leeks
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 gallon very hot water
1/3 lb chicken bouillon
2 bay leaves
1 cup diced yellow onion
2 quarts pre-cooked peeled and diced potatoes
In a large pot, add 1 cup water and celery, onions, leeks, white pepper, black pepper and bay leaves; bring to a boil to break down veggies (about 15 minutes); set aside and clean out pot. In the same pot, melt butter on low heat (do not burn!) for 5-7 minutes. Add flour and stir to create a roux; cook on low for 10 minutes. In a separate container, dissolve the bouillon in the hot water to make a broth. Add chicken broth to the roux and cook on medium heat, stirring, until the roux dissolves. When its starts boiling remove from heat. Add the vegetables and pre-cooked potatoes and simmer on low heat for 30-40 minutes. Garnish with cheddar cheese, bacon & green onion.