When the 5&10 tap, or Five and Dime, as it was commonly known, shut its doors a few years back, the building at 1850 N. Water St. underwent a spring cleaning of sorts. The exterior cream city brick was brought back to life, and years of smoke and fish fry grease were washed away.
For quite some time the building stood alone and vacant with a "for lease" or "for purchase" sign prominently displayed in one of its newly cleared windows. The streetscape around it changed into a revitalized neighborhood with myriad restaurants and condominiums where tanneries and blue collar bars once stood.
So, when Brocach Irish Pub and Restaurant came along, it quite literally had an open canvas in which to create an aesthetically authentic Irish pub. The outside of Brocach is now painted in bright colors, reminiscent to the rows of pubs I passed on a visit to Dublin some years back. The interior features low stools and bench-like seating, which, too, rings of authenticity.
Recent visits for dinner at Brocach were pleasant, and perhaps elevated by the ambience. Diners in the non-smoking section will find themselves traveling upstairs to an intimate dining area and bar with fireplace, and seating is close and cozy; smokers are welcomed to dine and drink on the first floor of the vibrant building.
We found better than average results with the food at Brocach, which teeters between authentic and Americanized, with good results.
Ploughman's platter in vegetarian ($12) and meat and cheese ($15) offered mixed results, with the vegetarian version clearly preferable. Roasted garlic cloves were paired with hummus, roasted red pepper dip and a medley of halved cherry tomatoes, artichokes, and kalamata and green olives for a fun and light beginning to our meal.
The meat and cheese version only offered a slightly tasteless Irish cheddar paired with liverwurst and summer sausage. Knowing that $15 at neighboring Trocadero would bring a delightful medley of a similar compilation, this dish pales in comparison and needs to step it up.
Irish Stew ($15) was a good, hearty version of traditional Irish stew with a tender whole, braised lamb shank making the dish. The big Irish breakfast ($11) was good, with rashers and Irish sausage, and a more delicate version of black and white puddings than those to which I'm accustomed. Black pudding, or blood sausage, usually carries a quite pungent flavor which this rendition was missing, and the white sausage, a compilation of pork, suet, bread and oats, too, was overtly mild.
Main courses of pan-seared grouper ($15) and wild Alaskan salmon ($16) gave mixed results. The grouper was light and flaky and came with a delicious parsley pearl couscous in a saffron cream sauce. Salmon was good, but slightly overdone. The white bean ragout beneath it was a good foil to the tender, bitter accompanying swiss chard.
Brocach has some interesting service challenges I would attribute to it being a new restaurant. Main courses tend to arrive in the middle of an appetizer course, and Colman's mustard was delivered in a jar with no serving utensils. We avoided the mustard since we didn't know whose knives may have been in it before us.
But other than that, the service was attentive and very friendly. And the atmosphere here is relaxing while still fun and light. For me, the real draw of Brocach is the authenticity of the surroundings and the two-tiered options for drinking the perfect pint.
Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.
The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.
Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to OnMilwaukee.com.