Though Not Very Irish, Claddagh's Pub Grub is (Mostly) Magically Delicious
The Claddagh ring depicts a crown above a heart, which is itself clutched by two hands. The heart stands for love, the hands epitomize friendship, the crown symbolizes loyalty and fidelity. Kind of busy, no? But that's the Irish for you--sentimental and didactic.
It turns out Claddagh Pub, bless its soul, is pretty damn unsentimental about the kind of food it's serving down on Canton's O'Donnell Square--no cabbage, lamb stew, blood puddings, or bangers and mash. It's standard American tavern food here, with barely a nod to the Old Sod, save the odd corned beef sandwich or "potato of the day."
Not that you'd mistake the place for a Jewish deli. Claddagh looks like a good American-Irish pub, the kind you might find in midtown Manhattan, with a lovely front bar and a boatload of Erse-atz bric-a-brac, including numerous examples of the eponymous symbol itself. But on a recent Sunday, the customers were watching American football games on television. If anyone was singing of shipwrecks, it must have been upstairs, where pool tables and a secondary bar appear to attract a younger neighborhood crowd.
Closest to the front bar there is the first of three dining rooms; the other two, off to the side, are far quieter and much less smoky. They're fine-looking rooms, with lovely pressed-tin ceilings, faux-distressed walls, and gouached murals of old-timey Irish scenes. There are candles on the table, and someone thought to dim the lights (finally!), but don't worry, nobody's putting on airs here. We're not talking cloth napkins.
Overall, things went very, very well with Claddagh's fare. The kitchen plates items very prettily and portions are mostly generous. Meat fared better than did fish, but the crab cakes fared best of all. There were flyers being strewn about by the staff for a new Wednesday-night surf and turf special: $13.95 for a five-ounce steak and a six-ounce crab cake. If it's like the crab cake I had--lumpy and mouth-pleasingly rich--and if the steak is prepared half as well as my companion's filet mignon was, this could be the deal of the year.
Both the crab cakes (market price, $23.95) and filet mignon ($19.95) came accompanied by peasant-style mashed potatoes and lightly sautéed mixed vegetables, as did the other entrées our table ordered. A rack of lamb ($19.95) pleased my friend with its husky whiskey sauce, even though it arrived slightly overdone. The homemade meat loaf ($11.95), served with a thick, Salisbury-style gravy, was good but not a revelation, lacking a little pepper perhaps.
Less successful were the chicken Chesapeake ($17.95), which topped marinated breasts of chicken with lump crab and an imperial sauce. Points subtracted for its appearance (not enough differentiation between the bird meat and crabmeat) and for, well, just not working. A mahimahi special ($19.95) didn't really come off either. Although the fish was well-treated and flaky, the accompanying guacamole and salsa were unpleasantly cold.
The appetizers sampled here, along with a couple of sandwiches tried on a separate visit, enjoyed similarly mixed results. I recommend the Vidalia onion straws ($4.95) for their sweetness and lack of grease, and the firecracker shrimp--five jumbo crustaceans served on toast ($7.95)--for the peppery assertiveness. But avoid that Hot Maryland Crab Dip ($7.95), because only one of the four words in its name is persuasively true.
A seafood club sandwich ($9.95) assembled a crab cake (not one of the dinnertime cakes, though), creamy shrimp salad, and bacon on toasted white bread. Although it could have been prettier, it was tasty. A hamburger ordered rare was cooked close to medium, and the blue cheese on top was too runny. Not bad for $6.45, but not the best in town.
Claddagh serves homemade desserts, and we tried a sour apple crisp, which was tasty and very attractive. It would have tasted better had it been served warm, and I'm still not sure why it wasn't. Had we asked our server, I'm sure he would have obliged. Claddagh's staff, at least those working the dreaded Sunday-night shift, were uniformly sweet and solicitous. A sneeze here brings a tissue.
The staff appears to be well treated by Claddagh's owner (I fool myself that I can tell), whom we found standing watch at the bar on our way out, just where you'd want him to be. Claddagh needs no introduction to Cantonites wanting to escape their cosmo-swilling neighbors, but it somehow took me eight years to make my way inside. I wish I'd gone sooner.