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East Dundee bars to again serve up corned beef by the ton for St. Pat’s

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Updated: April 16, 2013 3:59PM

East Dundee has a big appetite for St. Patrick’s Day, for along with its annual parade, two pubs are preparing more than a ton of corned beef between them for the festivities.

It’s a 10-year-old tradition literally smoked up by Steve Hopp, who used to own a butcher shop in town.

“I like the exercise of doing it. It’s fun to ready that much meat and a good challenge to have consistency,” Hopp said.

Hopp was friends with the late Thom McNamee, who owned Rosie O’Hare’s and Bandito Barney’s. McNamee was instrumental in getting the village’s St. Patrick’s parade off the ground, and the event now is held in his honor.

Hopp owns two large mobile smokers and wound up preparing the corned beef for his buddy’s bars. One of his smokers used to belong to singer Willie Nelson — which would be a good story for another occasion, and perhaps worthy of a pun or two given Nelson’s well-covered habits.

The smoker Hopp uses for this local Irish thanksgiving can hold up to 600 pounds of meat at a time; and until last year, Hopp was preparing 2,000 pounds or so, split between the two places. He’s also prepared up to 600 pounds that Rosie’s sold at the Irish fest that used to be at St. Catherine of Siena parish in West Dundee.

With McNamee’s death in 2009, his properties wound up on the market. McNamee friends Gary Kosmatka and his wife, Lynne, along with Gary Mueller and his wife, Jamie Legner Mueller, bought Rosie’s in September 2011 and hosted their first St. Pat’s last March. Bandito Barney’s was sold late last year to Roger Shelton, whose family owns Kinney Electrical Manufacturing Co. in Elgin.

So this year, Bandito’s will be fixing its own corned beef, and Hopp will only be involved with preparing more than a half ton for Rosie’s, aided as usual by Bruce Christensen.

“He’s the other most efficient smoker in the (Fox River) Valley,” Hopp said.

Where’s the beef

Hopp headed into Chicago to pick up the meat at 5 a.m. Wednesday and was back by 8 a.m. to start on the project. He said Crown Corned Beef custom-makes a supply for him, which he smokes with fruit wood.

“A typical corned beef is meant to be boiled, which takes out the salt. Since we smoke, they reduce the amount of salt in what we get by half,” Hopp said.

“(The smoker) can turn shoe leather into filet mignon,” he added.

It also can self-baste meat, rotisserie-style; but with corned beef, Hopp said he pan-roasts to save the juices. That’s to add some moisture back, as corned beef can lose half of its weight during cooking and after trimming and rendering.

It takes about eight to 12 hours to cook 500 pounds of the meat, so the preparation is a two-day project. It also involves trimming the fat off the meat and carving the meat against the grain.

Not doing so can result in a tough sandwich or plate, which happened by mistake a few years ago to hundreds of pounds of the corned beef at Bandito’s.

“They had a lot to make hash with,” Hopp said.

Hopp also uses some of the meat to make hash on purpose — to serve at a pre-parade breakfast.

The celebration is held the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, which this year is March 16.

The meat used in sandwiches or served with cabbage and potatoes usually turns out so well the men claim it’s gained converts from folks who normally don’t like corned beef.

“I like the look on people’s faces when they bite into it,” Christensen said.

Lots of customers

Corned beef actually is more of an Irish-American tradition than a holiday meal in Ireland.

Myths and mountains of meat aside, St. Patrick’s Day is big business for bars in both East and West Dundee, as it is in a good portion of the Fox Valley or anywhere with significant numbers of Irish.

When asked if it is busier than New Year’s Eve or the day before Thanksgiving, Rosie’s Mueller said, “Around here it is.”

In 2012, with the temperature soaring above 80, Bandito’s had its expansive beer garden open and, according to manager Ben Mahler, the bar ran out of most of its beer — including 10 kegs of Ireland’s iconic brand, Guinness, with taps for that dry by 4 p.m.

“Last St. Patrick’s was definitely the craziest day I’ve ever worked,” Mahler said, “Most of us did double shifts, and it was the biggest amount of cash and tips anybody can remember Bandito’s bringing in. Hundreds of people came by, and we were packed from 8 a.m. when we opened until 2 p.m. when we closed.”

“Last year, with the warm weather — we’ll never break that,” Mueller said. “It was crazier than any New Year’s Eve.”

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