Croí: In the heart of Tralee
Every restaurant should have a good backstory, and May 5th, 2017, was the beginning of that story for Head Chef Noel Keane, Sous Chef Paul Cotter and Restaurant Manager Kevin O’Connor, who opened their first restaurant together in Tralee and called it Croí.
Croí is the modern Irish word for ‘heart’ but, in old Irish, it also meant ‘the essence of’ – something that ties in with the restaurant’s ethos, taking in the essence of the land around it.
And there’s certainly plenty of the essence of Tralee in Croí. All produce is bought locally and can be traced from farm to fork. The beef is grass-fed and comes from nearby farms through a local butcher.
“It’s fantastic to have such a great relationship with your butcher,” Noel proudly stated.
Blair House Farm supplies the rare breed pork and is one of only a handful left.
“This emphasis here is our community and supporting it,” said Kevin.
Kevin and Noel first worked together 17 years ago in the Riverside Hotel, where Kevin became Noel’s Sous Chef, before taking over as Head Chef himself. On returning to Tralee, Kevin moved to front of house as a manager.
Paul first started in the kitchens six years ago as a Commis Chef, working under Noel, before moving on to places like Nicks and Inchydoney.
Paul does all the foraging for Croí and the restaurant uses a wide variety of wild edibles.
“There is wild food available 12 months of the year – it’s just a matter of learning and finding. Plus it gets you outdoors,” said Paul.
Croí also has its own garden complete with poly tunnels for year-round growing.
“It was about freshness and quality: picking the leaves or herbs in the morning and putting them on the plate that night, added to wild food. It’s about the flavour,” said Noel, who manages the garden.
“At the moment, the garden supplies 20% to 30% of what we use. The idea is to get it to about 80%,” he added.
The three lads are part of a group called Tralee Culinary Gangsters. Formed by Noel, this is a group of industry professionals, who write a blog of the same name and do talks, forages and cookery demos in Kerry.
“It’s about informing people of the wonderfully local produce we have – it’s the best in the world,” Noel commented.
Croí sponsors two commis chefs in college at the moment – David and Dale – and this is something the three lads want to continue in the future.
At Croí, it’s all about supporting local, artisan producers in Kerry, and they are also behind Noel’s brainchild of ‘Vegtopia’ – a day-long festival celebrating the vegetable, which takes place on July 14th and will include cookery demonstrations, and talks on nutrition and wellbeing from leading experts in the field.
And the mural on the side of the restaurant by a local young artist shows the restaurant’s commitment to all things local.
Croí has an old world charm of exposed brick, while also having modern food based on classical flavours. And, with the céad míle fáilte of a time long gone, it feels like home. The dishes are somehow familiar – the flavours of childhood.
This is a restaurant that has both found its place in time, and is timeless.