Since there's a whole international industry built around the concept of the "authentic Irish pub," in the end, what trumps "authenticity" is the vibe at an American Irish pub.
The new Brocach Irish Pub and Restaurant, 1850 N. Water St., has vibe in spades. And as a bonus, it feels "authentic," too.
Although one might wonder what this place could bring to Milwaukee that we don't already have in places like County Clare or Paddy's, a visit will make it all clear. Although the basics are the same, Brocach -- like Paddy's and Clare -- has a feel of its own.
After the success of Brocach Pub on Main Street on Madison's Capitol Square, the restaurant and bar opened last week in the 127-year-old Cream City building halfway between Trocadero and Redroom on North Water Street. But not before part of the bluff behind the building was hauled away and the building -- which formerly housed the 5 & 10 Tap -- was expanded and renovated under the supervision of Milwaukee architect Phillip Katz.
The results are extraordinary. The exterior façade looks like its straight out of a photo of Dublin, and its bright red woodwork shines like a beacon allowing Commerce Street neighbors across the river to see the pub.
There are two full bars -- a smoking one downstairs and a smoke-free one with a fireplace upstairs. There is also a second-story outdoor terrace that -- in season -- will afford great river views (at least until the vacant lot across the street is developed).
The walls and ceilings are painted in distressed earth tones that, along with the vintage hardwood floors and dark wood panels, furniture and bars, give Brocach a warm, welcoming feel, especially on a snowy, frigid winter day.
An array of framed beer art and romantic paintings lend a quirky, pub-y feel and soft red cushions make seated guests want to stay a while.
Brocach -- Gaelic for badger den and pronounced bro-caa -- is open daily from 3:30 p.m. until 2 a. m. The kitchen is open until midnight, but only serves a late-night menu after 10 p.m. Although lunch is served in Madison, there is currently no plan to serve lunch in Milwaukee, but a weekend brunch is being discussed.
On a recent visit, the staff was friendly and chatty and not a single employee encountered failed to say hello. The bartender pulled a perfect pint of Guinness and was happy to chat about the new place.
Although there's no solid plan yet for live music and televised footie, he intimated that since both are on tap at the Madison location, they're likely to arrive here, too.
The waitstaff was equally eager to talk about the fare, which was exceptional.
The shepherd's pie ($12) was certainly expected, although the vegetarian version ($12) -- which substituted mushrooms and barley for the ground certified Angus beef -- was a delightful surprise. Cooked peas and carrots joined the mushrooms and barley in a dense, rich gravy, hiding under a fluffy pile of colcannon mashed potatoes. Any authenticity points it might lose for excluding the beef is more than made up for with its wealth of full flavor -- this reviewer witnessed three other customers order it during the hour's stay. Both versions come with two hearty slices of homemade brown bread and butter.
Other Irish-themed dishes include the Berkshire pork chop ($18), an apple brined chop with buttermilk and sage smashed potatoes, braised cabbage, Strongbow cider sauce and stone ground mustard, and the ultimate breakfast of champions -- a combination of Irish sausage, rashers, eggs and black and white pudding known as The Big Irish Breakfast ($11) and is, apparently, not just for breakfast anymore.
What's interesting about Brocach's lengthy menu is its inclusion of less-than-traditionally Irish items, something the kitchen is able to execute with distinct style and intuition. The curried eggplant pita ($8), for example, mixes roasted eggplant, hummus, cucumber, tomato and red onion with a sweet curry sauce that oozed with zesty spice but was nowhere near what we think of as "spicy." It was, in fact, quite representational of the type of flavors commonly found at fast and easy Middle Eastern restaurants in present day Europe.
Brocach may not be a Milwaukee exclusive, but its great location and attention to important detail make it a welcome addition to the dining and drinking landscape.