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Thursday, Jan. 3, 2008

Specialties from Ireland

Milwaukee’s newest Irish pub

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The Irish pub is a worldwide phenomenon. Internationally, I have found them in cities as diverse as Chiang Mai, Dubrovnik, Buenos Aires and even a small village in Peru’s Colca Canyon region. The idea isn’t new to the Milwaukee area either, but it is growing more popular. For years the now-closed Nash’s Irish Castle ranked as the best. More recently, we have seen the addition of County Clare and two locations of Mo’s Irish Pub.

At the beginning of December a new Irish place opened—one that is immediately vying for the top ranking. The newcomer, Brocach, occupies the space that once housed the Five and Ten tavern. The original Brocach opened in Madison in 2004, a short distance from the state Capitol. The pub’s Web site says that Brocach is Gaelic for “badger den.” How appropriate for Wisconsin.

In its prime, the old Five and Ten was known as a modest place with a popular fish fry. But aside from the original Cream City brick walls, the interior is now unrecognizable. By the looks of it, little expense was spared when Brocach installed bars on two floors, along with a rather sparse supply of tables. The bar on the lower level features spots that afford a bit of privacy and shelves filled with assorted bric-a-brac.

Upstairs, the fireplace exudes warmth, even if the stone does look artificial. There is also an outdoor dining terrace with views of the Milwaukee River (at least until more condominiums are built). The menu often follows the formula for Irish pubs, though it does occasionally stray from the norm. This means that shepherd’s pie and corned beef are contrasted with Alaskan salmon and Buffalo wings. The corned beef appears as a sandwich with Thousand Island dressing and Swiss cheese, which sounds a lot like a Reuben minus the sauerkraut.

The meat and potatoes are lightened up with salads. Among the best is the orange and fennel ($7) with assorted leaf lettuces, a bit of red onion, garbanzo beans and an aged sherry vinaigrette. The “Irish Specialties” include an occasional twist. Bangers and mash ($12) is a simple dish with a pair of sausages smaller than bratwurst but otherwise similar in color and flavor. The mash portion of the meal is comprised of unexceptional mashed potatoes.

The roasted apple and shallot sauce, however, adds some flavor and distinction. The Irish stew ($15) is true to form with the usual cast of root vegetables: onion, potato, carrot and parsnip. They are cooked to the proper texture, not overdone at all. The lamb is an entire shank, which is more flavorful than ordinary stew meat and also helps to justify the entre’s price.

Venturing beyond the Irish fare can be rewarding as well. Pan-seared grouper is a whole filet of this deservedly popular fish, served over couscous with parsley and a subtle saffron cream sauce. Cherry tomatoes and a few olives complete the composition. Vegetarians are not ignored, either, as there are several salads, an entre of baked penne pasta and a pita sandwich with curried eggplant. Brocach is one of the current hot spots, resulting in standing-roomonly on weekends, not to mention the problem of parking. But even at its busiest, the pub offers an ample, accommodating staff. At times the setting can seem so authentically Irish that bar patrons can be heard singing an impromptu chorus of “Danny Boy.” Or maybe it was just the pints of Guinness.

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