An Authentic Pub Experience at the Claddagh

An Authentic Pub Experience at the CladdaghI first contacted The Claddagh Irish Pub on Facebook. I usually spend every St. Patrick’s Day waiting in line for beer there, and have had several orders of their infamous fish and chips for dinner. I finally added them on Facebook, and struck up a conversation. They wanted in on my restaurant experience reviews. However, they wanted me to drive all the way out to visit their Plainfield location.

The main reason they wanted me to drive so far was the detailed and one-on-one experience unique to their west side location. I had been there before, and knew the location well, so it wouldn’t be a big deal to go. However, seeing as how I am always at the 96th street location, right next to Scotty’s Brewhouse, it seemed obvious I would be dining at that location.

I arrived at the Claddagh about an hour early. My dinner date, Sheryl Hugill, was running late because of a class. I knew they had free Wi-Fi, so I wanted to get some writing in before my evening began. When I walked in, they already had been expecting me, and had my table prepared in the back of the restaurant.

If you have never stepped inside a Claddagh, you might want to drop what you are doing and go now. Now only does the atmosphere fit the quality of food, but the theme makes you feel like you are truly in a British pub. The lighting is dim, the walls are dark and covered in old wood paneling, and the servers and bartenders have that Irish know-how when it comes to suggesting the right menu item.

Most of my restaurant experience interviews are planned to include a couple of appetizers, a couple of entrees, and a couple of desserts, all matched with a drink from the bar. The chef selects the menu, and the bar manager chooses drinks. I look at the menu so that I can share pricing and portion sizes, but I ask to be treated like any other guest. I expect the night to be just like you would experience when you visit. The Claddagh did nothing like I had asked.

After I was seated, a manager introduced himself to me. He then introduced a server who would deliver drinks and water for the evening. Then he brought over the head chef. From that moment, the entire evening was filled with stories of where the food came from, tips for preparing the same dishes at home, and the history behind the restaurant and their new menu. The attention that was paid to my guest and me while I was there was unbeatable. The chef personally served each dish, and by the time I was half fished with the third round of samplings, I was stuffed. Then he just insisted on bringing more. Since I have a dedication to my readers and my blog, I kept eating.

Indianapolis Locations

You can visit three Claddagh locations in Indianapolis. You can go to their north side location on 96th street. You could visit their downtown location, right in the heard of the city, and experience the same quality food and drinks. Or you could head out to the west side, and enjoy a nice meal at Metropolis. If you go to this mall, you might just find yourself walking around and shopping at all the various stores here as well. No matter which location you choose, you will not be disappointed. Their tagline is Fresh. Simple. Tasteful. That goes to all the locations located in the Circle City, and the other thirteen locations located all over the Midwest.

Do you know where the name pub comes from? It actually stands for “public house,” and in Europe, pubs are treated as a place where friends and family gather to share in conversation, great food, and drinks. We might not be in Europe, but everything else that I experienced was about as close to perfect as you could get. Let’s eat, shall we?

Starting Things Off Right

Rather than bringing out huge portions, the head chef decided to give me a chance to sample more menu items. From the appetizer all the way through the desserts, we were served with smaller portion sizes with multiple menu items on the same plate. That is where we began with the appetizers. Remember, I ask for each item to be paired with a drink from the bar. These drinks were served in much smaller glassware as well, nicely matched to our food portions.

Salt & Pepper Calamari

The first item on the plate was an order of salt and pepper calamari. I am a big fan of fresh seafood, and not much can replace that flavor of cut up, deep-fried squid.

Once you pop one of these little guys into your mouth, you almost forget all about the fact you are eating squid. The calamari was quite chewy, which I hate when eating squid, but the flavors on the breading made up for that. The taste is so intense, almost spicy from the amount of pepper you taste, and leaves your mouth simply wanting more.

You can get a full order of this stuff for $6.99, and it comes with a side of homemade marinara sauce. One thing that has changed at the Claddagh, besides their menu, is that they are a made-from-scratch kitchen now. That means that almost every sauce is made fresh daily in the kitchen. That marinara you are dropping your fish into was made that morning. It adds a whole new feel to a restaurant, knowing that each day they put so much effort into even simple things like a sauce. And the sauce, in this case the marinara, reflected that on our visit. It was thick, hearty, and left a great after taste for the next bite of calamari.

Hummus & Pita Points

When I go out to eat, I rarely order an appetizer. The main reason is that they are just too expensive in most cases. But part of the new menu at the Claddagh is their “lighter side nibbles,” as they call it. These are smaller portioned apps that are just right before a big meal. These little plates of food are only $2.99. The hummus and pita points are one of those options.

I am not a huge fan of hummus, but I always like to give it a try. Greek just doesn’t really do it for me. And I’m not sure what a Greek food staple is doing in an Irish pub. But anyway, I thought I would give it a try.  The pita points came served with the hummus already on top. It was much easier to eat than if we’d had to dip or spoon the hummus, and also made a more pleasant presentation.

The hummus was a tad dry, but you expect that from hummus. The pita points were also a bit dry, and a little over cooked if you ask me. But if you are looking for that true fare of hummus, then this is an option for you. Also, for only $2.99, you can’t go wrong.

Corned Beef & Cabbage Rolls

Next comes a Claddagh signature menu item. I was excited just from the name of this appetizer. The corned beef and cabbage rolls combine two Irish staples into one tasty little appetizer. From the start, they look like just your typical store-bought egg rolls that you might serve with some steamed rice. But once you bite into these, you are swept away with a mouthful of flavor. They are packed with sweetness from the cabbage, and served with a sweet chili dipping sauce that you can order as a side sauce with any menu item. And I highly suggest it.

Spinach & Artichoke Dip

This is a typical appetizer staple. There are very few restaurants that don’t offer some sort of spinach dip on their appetizer menu. But the spinach and artichoke dip at the Claddagh is a bit different. First off, they make it in house. They use a blend of three fresh cheeses and serve it on top of pita points, similar to the hummus. Again, rather than having to dip for it, you can just grab a pita point and start eating.

Remember how I said the pita points were a bit dry? Well, this actually helps the spinach dip. The dryness from the pita actually serves well with the intensity from the flavors in the spin dip. You can almost taste all three of those cheeses, and the spinach flavor is not too overwhelming. I won’t say this the is best spinach dip that I have ever had, but the next time I am at the Claddagh, I am sure I will order some.

Eire Smokes Salmon Plate

Now you’re talking. I love salmon. But I love it even more when it comes out looking like this. Not only was this dish served with a gorgeous presentation, but also came with a side of field greens, some red onions, capers, tomatoes, and some Claddagh bread with a side of lime aioli. It looked almost too good to eat.

But when I did start eating, I couldn’t stop. The lime aioli was just the right balance for the intensity of the capers and the freshness of the salmon. And the field greens, which I later learned are eventually going to replace their house salad, made the meal light and added another bit of freshness to it. This dish is $12.99, so it is a little higher priced than most of the other appetizers, but the taste is worth it.

We were served a Strongbow with this, and I couldn’t have picked a better beer. Strongbow is a hard cider in a tall yellow and black can. I am sure you have seen the logo at one point of another. I have since gone out and bought a four pack. When you sip on one of these and eat some of that fresh salmon with the flavorful capers, you won’t be sorry.

Now for the Main Course

I was starting to get full by the time I finished all of these appetizers. I am a member of the clean plate club, and when there is food on a plate in front of me, well, I eat it. I just like to consider myself a growing boy. And now, it was time for the main course.

Cilantro Pesto Baked Cod

This dish had a pretty neat presentation as well. The fish was served on top of a bed of fresh ratatouille. From the first bite, I was more excited about the ratatouille than the fish. Not that the fish was bad, but I just have a hard time mixing pesto and fish. I think of pesto as pairing for chicken or possibly even beef, but never seafood.

The pesto didn’t overpower the dish by any means. The flavor coming from the ratatouille was enough to cancel out the pesto on the fish itself. And with multiple other menu items here featuring this same codfish, I felt like this dish was almost reaching a bit too far. One good thing about this dish was that the flavor did hang around for a while. It was nice to finish the dish, take a sip of wine, and still have that pesto and marinara lingering.

Shrimp Risotto

Recently, on a trip to Hawaii, I had the chance to eat some of the freshest shrimp I have ever had. The shrimp in Hawaii literally come from ponds right next to the restaurants, and you can eat shrimp that were swimming around a few hours prior. I never thought the flavor of those shrimp could be replaced. That was until the chef brought out his shrimp risotto.

This dish is simple. It is nothing more than some white rice, some vegetables, a handful of jumbo shrimp, and some shredded Parmesan cheese. But when you grab a spoonful of this stuff, especially the bites that have a shrimp in them, you are not going to want to stop eating until it is gone. This might be one of the best dishes I have ever eaten at any restaurant in this city.

The shrimp are just packed with flavor. I even asked the chef how he packs so much flavor into these little guys, and he said that he just soaks them overnight. Simple and delicious. The rice and veggies also make the dish seem somewhat healthy. I literally licked this bowl clean before I let him take it away. It was that good. And for only $13.99, there is a lot of value for your dollar here.

Fish & Chips

You can’t go to an Irish pub and not consider ordering the fish and chips. Sheryl is a huge fan of fish and chips, and who can blame her? You take fresh fish, deep fry it to a golden brown in beer batter, and then throw on a side of freshly cut French fries. Pretty hard to screw that up.

The chef actually said no when I asked him if fish and chips were going to be sampled that evening. He said it is too obvious, and claimed that they were trying to steer people away form ordering such cliché dishes. However, we were served an order of fish and chips because I told him Sheryl is a big fan.

The fish is incredible. You taste the same cod here as you did in the pesto dish, but the batter makes all the difference in the world. It’s served with a side of tartar sauce that you will find yourself needing to order extra, because it is a treat all itself. Match that with those hand-cut steak fries and the freshly prepared Cole slaw for a dish that will have you begging for more.

Chicken Curry

When sitting down in an Irish pub, curry is probably not on your mind. That is something you get at a Chinese restaurant or a Thai place. But this curry is not your typical curry. It is actually Irish curry, which is completely different than anything you have ever tasted.

This dish is served with another variety of freshly cut French fries, dusted in sea salt to preserve the taste of the potato. Also featured is a side of fresh veggies that, when mixed with the leftover curry sauce from the diced up chicken, makes for an incredible side dish. The heat that you expect form a traditional curry is not there, which is part of what makes this dish so unique.  Just consider this one more authentic Irish menu item for you to choose form.

Bacon & Cheese Tartlet

Weird is the only thing that I can use to describe this dish. Think of a strange quiche. You almost don’t want to even try it because of how it looks. But trust me, do. The flavors packed in this dish are incredible. It’s served with a side house salad you won’t even want to touch because of the bacon and cheese flavors in this tartlet. And who doesn’t like bacon?

This meal almost reminds you of a breakfast sandwich. The Claddagh is not open for breakfast, but if you are like me and like to have breakfast for dinner sometimes, get this. And the salad, which I did eventually eat, has a pretty good dressing on it. The field greens, discussed earlier, make up the salad and it is tossed in lemon vinaigrette.

Munster Meatloaf

I love me some meatloaf. But when our chef served the Munster Meatloaf, I was confused. It did not look like meatloaf at all. It was a ball of meat wrapped in bacon. Don’t get me wrong, it still looked incredible. Just not what I was expecting.

The meatloaf is served on a bed of chicken gravy, and covered in a stone ground mustard sauce. What makes this meatloaf so unique? Well, have you ever had meatloaf made with minced chicken? Yeah, me either. And I want some more right now.

The fresh veggies served on the side make you feel a bit less guilty about eating a huge chunk of bacon-wrapped meat. The heat coming from the mustard is enough to make you reach for your water glass, and actually takes a lot of the flavor from the meatloaf away, so be careful how much you use per bite. You need to make sure you taste the meatloaf, not just the sauce. A great menu item, and for only $10.99 you can’t go wrong. It will fill you up.

Cornucopia Burgers

I have had my fair share of turkey burgers and Boca burgers in an effort to lose weight. But when I was told that these vegetarian burgers were part of the line up, I was nothing more than curious. For only $7.99, you can feel a lot better about eating a cheeseburger.

This dish was actually named after a store in Europe called Cornucopia. The burgers are served on a bun with lettuce, red onion, and topped with a garlic lime aioli on the bottom allowing your mouth to taste all of the flavors all the way through. And you do taste all of the flavors. It does not taste like a cheeseburger, so if you ordered this hoping it would be like a Big Mac, prepare to be disappointed. It is good, don’t get me wrong, but you feel healthy when eating it.

Sweetness Here She Comes

Part of the Claddagh’s efforts in offering lower prices and a wider selection of foods means cutting back the best part of the meal, the desserts. As with the appetizers, I rarely order a dessert after all the food I consume at dinner. But there is always room for ice cream, right?

Here at the Claddagh, you have only four options for your desserts. And they won’t feed an army. They are personal sized, and if you are nice you could share, but you will not get full from these dishes. I had the chance to try all four desserts. All of these dishes are only $3.50 as well. Compare these to the nibbles that began your meal.

The first one was the Bread and Butter Pudding. It was my favorite of the four. It was nothing to write home about, just good old bread pudding. Then came the Beautiful Baby Banoffee. This is a banana lover’s dream. I took one bite and it was enough for me to move on to the Eaton Mess and the Chocolate Brownie Hooley.

The Eaton Mess was a basically a bowl of berries and simple syrup. As healthy as this sounds, well, its not! And nothing called the Chocolate Brownie Hooley can be good for you. It was just good! But we managed to finish all of the desserts.

When I first stepped into the Claddagh, I knew I would have a memorable experience. And that is exactly what we got. The food was incredible, the drinks were unique and fitting to the meal, and the service was top notch. Not too many places pay that much attention to detail and add that extra level of personality to your visit. (I mean, who has ever heard of a Guinness Fizz? What is a Guinness Fizz you ask? This is nothing more than vodka and Kahlua, but instead of cream that would make a White Russian you add Guinness. Yeah, it’s good. Its really good.)

I want to thank everyone who made this experience possible. The food was fantastic, the atmosphere is nearly impossible to replace, and even though there are fewer items on the menu, the selection is endless. If you are in the mood for an order of fish and chips, or something more authentic like the Munster Meatloaf, there is a table waiting for you at the nearest Claddagh.