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Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011

Celebrating the Food of the Emerald Isle

Milwaukee's Irish Fest runs Aug. 18-21

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There's significant dispute over which county first invented Irish coffee, that mixture of whiskey and sweetened coffee topped with cream, but in a way both Donegal and Derry counties can lay claim to the popular hot drink. One of the most widely accepted origin stories credits the drink to Derry native Joe Jackson, who created the drink to combat hypothermia while in the navy during World War II, and later popularized it by serving it at a hotel he ran with his wife in the '40s and '50s.

Both Derry and Donegal counties will be celebrated at Milwaukee's Irish Fest this year, and a featured chef from Donegal, Michelle Hunter, will give cooking demonstrations about her native cuisine. In addition to detailing some of the county's seafood and potato dishes, she'll teach audiences how to make the proper cup of Irish coffee.

For those who like their booze less caffeinated, the festival's Jameson Lounge will be serving up a variety of unique drinks, including the Bloody Molly (which swaps vodka for whiskey), and potcheen, a distilled Irish drink that in its original form had such high alcohol content that Ireland outlawed it for centuries (modern potcheens have considerably less alcohol content).  The lounge will also host whiskey tastings and classes.

This year the festival has added five new food vendors, including the Milwaukee steakhouse Ward's House of Prime and the Irish chain Claddagh, says festival coordinator Mary Cannon. Among the dishes offered this year will be shepherd's pie, stuffed baked potatoes, Reuben rolls and the perennial best seller, corned beef (each year the festival sells about 10,000 pounds of it).

“McBob's Pub, the local restaurant on 49th and North Avenue, does probably the best corned beef in the world,” Cannon says. “I don't know how they do it, but it's the best I've ever had. They alone sell over 3,500 pounds of corned beef over three and a half days, and that's a lot of corned beef. They'll be selling corned-beef sandwiches and Reuben sandwiches, as well as something called Bailey balls, which is a dessert item of solid chocolate filled with Baileys that's to die for.”

Irish Fest runs Aug. 18-21 at Henry Maier Festival Park.

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