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Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009

Slim McGinn’s Hearty Irish Fare

Baby back ribs also shine in classic pub setting

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Slim McGinn’s Irish Pub, located in a brick structure built more than a century ago, is one of those typical corner bars found throughout older areas of Milwaukee. R.J. “Slim” McGinn opened the place in 1995, though he’s made many changes since then.

The main bar area, with the usual woodwork and high ceiling, remains much the same. Framed prints illustrate Milwaukee’s beer history. An upper level is used as a party room. For a complete change of setting, there is an enclosed and winterized patio. The year-round patio, which also has a bar and considerable greenery, overlooks an outdoor seating area for warmer weather. Do not be surprised if you hear an occasional train rumbling by, as tracks are just a few feet away.

The entrance is near the open-air kitchen—an appropriate placement, since most of the customers are here to eat. The menu has a bit of an Irish theme filled out with standard American fare. You’ll also find daily dinner specials that can offer excellent values. Corned beef shows up in sandwiches and Reuben roll appetizers, and potatoes range from homemade potato chips to the pancakes served with the Friday fish fry.

The menu makes occasional changes. One such newbie is a shrimp martini appetizer. The good-sized glass is filled with shelled medium shrimp covered with cocktail sauce and served over a base of lettuce. Quantity is the idea.

The daily soup specials are one of the highlights here. Currently a meaty chili is popular, but even vegetarian soups such as chunky tomato with basil dumplings are deftly prepared. Soups may be ordered on the side ($2.75-$3.25) or included with an entrée. Entrées also offer a house salad of leaf lettuce with Roma tomato, cucumber, red onion and some decent, homemade croutons. The dressings, though they take no chances, are adequate enough.

Entrées consist of two groups: dinners and blue-plate specials. The specials include hearty fare like shepherd’s pie, meatloaf, fish and chips and even lasagna. You’ll also find Irish pot roast ($8.25), a thick slab of beef covered in gravy made with minced vegetables and a dash of Guinness. A heap of garlic mashed potatoes with red skins comes on the side. Perhaps pot roast should not be sliced this thick, as the meat tends to be stringy—a sharper knife is called for.

The dinners reflect the menu’s American side: steaks and ribs. A restaurant with mainstays like fish and chips, pot roast and corned beef seems like an odd place to order baby back ribs, but the ribs are Slim’s best item. Order a half-rack ($10.95) or whole ($16.95). The tender meat is firm to the bone and freshly charred with a final visit to the grill just before the barbecue sauce is added. This makes the meat less fatty and a joy to eat. The Texas barbecue sauce has just the right elements of tang and spice. Soup or salad is included, as well as a side dish. The creamy coleslaw is ideal with the ribs.

At lunch, most customers opt for sandwiches. The burgers ($7) are large and the tenderloin ($8.95) is respectable in size. The burgers are cooked to order while the thinner tenderloin tends to be a little overdone. There are many choices of toppings. One is called the “Blueroom,” sliced mushrooms with an abundance of melted blue cheese. The standard bun seems too small for the burger, so opt for another bread, like the marble rye. The meatloaf sandwich ($6.95) is very basic, a slice served warm or cold with white bread. Order a burger instead.

The prices are quite reasonable, but they can be even better with the daily dinner specials. Wednesday has a $10.95 New York strip steak and Sunday has blue-plates for less than $6. Slim’s has many things going for it: a casual, classic, corner-tavern setting, reasonable prices and a location close to Downtown with plenty of free street parking. In addition, most of the items are sound, hearty fare. The main draws are the soups, the fish fry and, especially, those baby back ribs.
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