Of the trips I have been fortunate enough to take over the last 10 years or so, I would include Ireland in my list of favorite destinations. Peaceful, beautiful scenery, historic ruins of ancient castles, lovely B&Bs, the Jameson whiskey distillery and natural attractions like the Cliffs of Moher make it a perpetual favorite.
And while the pubs in Ireland are like nowhere else and the Guinness quite literally flows like milk and honey (and tastes infinitely better than the Anheuser-Busch branded variety we have here in the states), to me it was quite obvious why you'll often hear the Irish say Guinness is food. You simply do not visit Ireland for the food. The soups are mostly compilations of cream and blenderized items that once were vegetables, potatoes or other solid foods, and fruit is a hot commodity. To my recollection, an apple, a banana and about six grapes cost me the equivalent of $9 in 2001.
With all due credit to my lineage, they do with what they have and a good Irish stew is second to none, but the Guinness and the beautiful countryside in Ireland are more of a draw than any culinary inventions.
Not so at the County Clare Inn, 1234 N. Astor St., where the menu items are as welcoming as the staff, many of whom are visitors or students from Ireland.
One of the distinguishing marks of a good restaurant is consistency, and County Clare is consistent in every aspect down to the positioning of the orange slice on their dinner plates. The menu pairs pub food like corned beef ($7.95) and Reuben sandwiches ($8.45) with more "contemporary Irish dishes" like roast pork loin ($12.95) and a steak of the day selection.
With its dual role as an inn, the Clare's menu is comfort food, and the mood of the restaurant during serving hours is sedate and relaxing. Diners can expect most dishes to come with a side of traditional Irish brown bread and the mashed potato of the day, which could be something as simple as garlic mashed, or a more complex compilation including roasted vegetables.
On recent visits to County Clare, we found lunches and dinners, both in food and service, to be consistently solid. Crispy Reuben rolls ($5.45) featured two large eggroll like crisp tubes packed with tender chunks of corned beef and served with a horseradish cream sauce. Molly Malone mussels ($8.95) were simply steamed with white wine, garlic and butter with brown bread to soak up the leftover juices.
An Irish root soup ($2.45 cup, $3.95 bowl) was a creation of pureed sweet potatoes, leeks and carrots, and was creamy and well seasoned; better than any I had sampled in old Éire.
An entrée of grilled salmon ($14.95) came with a simple dill cream sauce, and the rich mashed potatoes paired with sautéed squash and zucchini. Grandma Flanigan's pot roast ($11.95) with Guinness gravy and Shepherd's pie ($10.95) were also delicious, with tender beef, rich gravy, and well-seasoned vegetables.
Sandwiches at County Clare are also consistent and work well with any of the beers in their substantial Irish and English selections. Many sandwiches appear on toasted rye bread, save the rogue "Clare" sandwich ($8.95) which has tender prime rib with grilled onions and tomatoes arriving on a Sciortino's (Italian!) hard roll.
But I merely jest, since County Clare has done a tremendous job of imbedding itself into the Milwaukee community and really giving the neighbors a delicious taste of Ireland, wonderful service, and a lovely pub atmosphere with house musician Barry Dodd bringing traditional Irish music and hospitality to our near downtown.
County Clare is open daily at 11:30 a.m.
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.