Jeffrey Merlot
Mr.& Mrs. M.

Holidays at County Clare

By - Dec 27th, 2010 04:00 am
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At Christmastime we found ourselves meeting up with friends at County Clare Pub & Restaurant, a place that has become an East-Side monument to the music, food and drink of Ireland since its opening in 1996.

Founded by owner-operator and Milwaukee native Rip O’Dwanny, County Clare insures that visitors to our fair city are able to enjoy a world-class hospitality experience, replete with not only an authentic Irish restaurant and pub, but also a stylish boutique hotel bundled together with them on the corner of Astor and East Knapp Streets, which housed the former Acme Grocery Store in the 1940s. The inn offers Old World charm with big, comfy four-poster beds and modern amenities like whirlpool baths.

In the cozy, wood-rich pub, one can sit next to the fireplace and listen to live music in the Saint’s Snug where emerald panes of elegant glass pay homage to Irish saints. Above the bar, we are warned that “Profanity makes ignorance audible.” (Irish humor, blessings and advice are stenciled on plaques and walls throughout the festively-Celtic décor of the interior).

Nestled snugly together with the pub and open until 10 p.m. six days a week ( 9 p.m. on Sunday), the restaurant has won international accolades for the authenticity of its Irish food. The night we met our friends, a large group of Irish folks were enjoying pints of rich, dark Guinness stout with us  — the website proclaims “A pint of Guinness is the freshest here outside of St. James Gate itself.” That freshest-of-the-fresh Guinness will only set one back $5 per pint here.

Appetizers feature specialties like chilled Irish-style smoked salmon served on homemade brown bread toast-points
with dill cream, lemon, and capers for $8.95 called “Bradán,” and “Chicken Shannon” — chicken strips battered with secret
Shannon dipping sauce for $7.95 (the Irish visitors swore by it).

Traditional Irish brown bread makes a nice accompaniment to the “Root Soup,” a puree of sweet potatoes, carrots and leeks, or the soup of the day, both of which can be had by the cup for $2.95 or bowl for $3.95.

Among the main courses, there is a nice variation of classic Shepherd’s Pie made with seasoned shredded beef (as opposed to minced lamb – it’s called “Cottage Pie” in the U.K. and Ireland when made with beef), stewed with peas, carrots and onions, topped with their homemade mashed potatoes baked golden brown for $12.95.

And of course there is traditional Irish stew offered for $12.95; slowly-stewed, tender lamb and root vegetables topped with crispy sweet potato shoestrings and served with mashed potatoes. An old Irish-American favorite, Corned Beef and Cabbage, is served with peas, carrots and mashed potatoes on the side.,also $12.95.

A sandwich menu contains the “Milwaukee & County Clare Reubens” — lean corned beef with Thousand Island dressing on grilled light rye, Swiss or provolone cheese for $8.95 (note:  you can do as Mrs. M. did and omit the sauerkraut or cabbage slaw for a simple corned beef on rye). One can also order it made with turkey which is called a “Rachel.” The “Clare” sandwich is a four-ounce pounded steak grilled medium, with lettuce, tomato and caramelized onions, topped with pepper jack cheese, and anlann pratai (that means “Potato” in Gaelic) on a toasted roll from another Milwaukee, East-Side landmark, Sciortino’s bakery.

A vegetarian menu priced between $4.95 and $10.95 rounds out the kitchen’s main offerings, with most items capable of being made vegan by omitting the cheese. Irish Curry Chips are thick-cut French fries covered in a mild curry sauce. The Brown Bread & Blue Cheese Dumplings are a seasoned blend of steamed bread which is rolled around a gooey cheese center, topped with creamy gorgonzola sauce and crispy sweet potato fries (who could say no to that?)

How about Irish bread pudding for dessert? It’s only $6 for a nice big piece at County Clare! Traditional Irish bread pudding is made here with craisins soaked in a warm whiskey butter sauce. Imported Irish sodas are available for $2.50, and sometimes they even have imported Irish crisps (potato chips) for just a buck!

One important thing to note: If you come with a group of five or more people, be warned that you will not be allowed to split the bill at this establishment. If you want to split the bill, then you will have to order everything at the bar (quite a pain, indeed, but they say that’s because of the way their computer system works).

County Clare
1234 N. Astor St., Milwaukee
(414) 272-5273
Major credit cards accepted

Mr. & Mrs. M’s Traditional Shepherd’s Pie  (serves 6)

2 lbs. ground lamb
¾ cup diced onion
2 tablespoons steak sauce (we like to use regular HP sauce from the U.K.)
1 8.5-oz can peas & diced carrots (drained)
1 tablespoon ketchup
6 oz. tomato paste
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 to 6 cups (2 to 2½ regular servings) mashed potatoes, warmed up to eating temperature

Preheat oven to at 375° F.

Crumble the meat thoroughly in a large skillet and brown with the onions, draining the fat as needed. Stir in the steak sauce, ketchup and the Worcestershire sauce.

Mix the cornstarch and flour with the tomato paste as best as you can until smooth, then stir it in thoroughly with the meat mixture. Add the peas and carrots, then mix well and heat thorough.

Transfer the warmed meat filling to a greased 2-quart (or bigger) casserole dish. Pack the meat filling down into the casserole, level it smoothly and cover the top of it evenly with as much mashed potatoes as will fit without spilling over the sides. Bake 45 minutes, or until the potato topping is golden brown. Allow to cool ten minutes, then slice and serve. This is a complete meal that needs nothing served on the side with it (except a pint of Guinness!).

Bain taitneamh as do bhéil!

Categories: Dining, Mr. and Mrs. M.

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