On St. Patrick's Day, every eatery likes to put their own spin on Irish classics. Bypass that corned beef special. Instead, order up another whisky and a side of boxty and explore the cuisine that these Irish pubs and restaurants around town are serving up the other 364 days a year.
"You're not as likely to find high-end Irish cooking," says Brian Moss, executive chef at Stone Mad (1306 West 65th St., 216-281-6500) in Gordon Square. "As the chef, you have to take Irish techniques to the next level."
Shepherd's pie, once more commonly referred to as cottage pie, remains one of the dishes most associated with Irish history. Stone Mad's take on the classic comfort food doesn't stray far from the customary meat pies topped with mashed potatoes. Though many use a braising technique for lamb shoulder, Moss prefers roasting. The browned meat works well when it's mixed with gravy. Ground lamb, potatoes and onions are added and mashed potatoes cover the top.
"This is the fancier end of peasant food," Moss says. "It's only a handful of ingredients, but it tastes way more complex. It's about getting the best simple ingredients and using them wisely."
Though some will say that shepherd's pie is meant to be made with lamb, American versions today often use beef. West Park's lively P.J. McIntyre's (17119 Lorain Ave., 216-941-9311, pjmcintyres.com) serves the traditional beef pie as well a homemade egg roll variety. Owner Patrick Campbell uses the recipe of his Dublin-native wife, which includes European Bisto Gravy mix, minced beef and carrots.
Another place to get your fix: Greenisland Irish Pub (25517 Eaton Way, Bay Village; 440-250-9086).
This popular Irish specialty swaps in baking soda for yeast. The recipe for the raisin-filled bread found in the Harp's (4408 Detroit Ave., 216-939-0200, the-harp.com) baskets has been passed down through generations.
"It's made in-house every day," says executive chef Joseph Nagy. "It's sweet and light, like the traditional bread."
Another place to get your fix: Casey's Irish Imports (19626 Center Ridge Rd., Rocky River, 440-333-8383, caseysirishimports.com).
We're not talking kegs and eggs. The Irish breakfast is a protein-packed meal that originated as a way to prepare for all-day farming. "They took it seriously as the best meal of the day," says Jim Henderson, owner of Gaelic Imports (5633 Pearl Rd., Parma, 440-845-0100, gaelicimports.com).
The shop grinds its own Irish-style sausage, or bangers, and blends it with cracker meal, water and authentic sausage. "It's a very simplistic recipe," says Henderson. "The big thing you're trying to do is have them taste the meat instead of the spices."
It also comes with black and white pudding. Black pudding, or "blood pudding," is made with beef blood (though many Irish use pork) and heavy on oatmeal, onion and spices with an emphasis on cloves. They're all mixed together, ground up and put into casings, then given a cold bath and chilled overnight. White pudding uses water instead of blood. The breakfasts are served with rashers, or pork loin processed as bacon.
Once cauldrons were introduced to Ireland, they became the primary cooking vessel. The result was dark, hearty meat and root vegetable stews.
Mullarkey's Irish Pub (4110 Erie St., Willoughby, 440-946-7181, mullarkeys.com) uses a recipe passed down through five generations from the wife of owner John Bowers, Eileen McLarkey. It's no surprise the bar, patterned after the warm, homey feel of rural Irish watering holes, adds some Guinness to the mix. They've received the Gold-certified status from the beer company. "It gives a richness to the flavor," Bowers says.
The East Fourth Street staple Flannery's Pub (323 Prospect Ave., 216-781-7782, flannerys.com) plans to bake their stew into a beef and stout pie when they roll out their new menu this spring. The house-made crusts will be filled with parsnips and carrots and simmered in Guinness, which general manager Sean O'Donnell says tenderizes the meat. "It's a workingman's farmer food," he explains.
As part of the restaurant's transition to keep in step with the farm-to-table blueprint of their neighbors, they'll soon be introducing more Ohio meats and vegetables and scratch cooking. "We're getting to the heart of East Fourth," says O'Donnell.
In Cleveland, you can't turn around during Lent without seeing a fish fry. But when it comes to Irish cuisine, seafood is a specialty all year. At Sully's Irish Pub (117 West Liberty St., Medina, 330-764-3333, sullysmedina.com), owner John Sullivan takes an annual two-week trip to Ireland to bring back the culture and get inspiration for the menu, says manager Allie Burmeister.
But a perennial favorite is the fried haddock coated in their house-made Guinness batter. "When people come to an Irish pub, they want the full experience," says Burmeister. "Fish and chips is one of those popular dishes and here you can get it with a little spin."
Of that touch of Guinness, she says, "We try to put as much beer in dishes as we can." The salmon, for example, is glazed with Magners Irish Cider, apricot preserves and honey.
Bangers and mash
Storied downtown Irish pub the Flat Iron Café (1114 Center St., 216-696-6968, flatironcafe.com) is home to plenty of the classics. Their bangers and mash are among the Irish favorites. They source the raw bangers from Gaelic Imports, where they're made in house. Steamed to order and finished on the grill, the sausages are then served with mashed potatoes and their signature Guinness gravy. "I think when the Irish community comes in to the oldest Irish pub, this reminds them of home and how their grandparents may have made them," says owner David Steele.
Another place to get your fix: Nighttown (12383 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Heights, 216-795-0550, nighttowncleveland.com).