Claddagh Irish Pub gets a makeover

Source: Liz Keeney,

Wednesday, 14th Sept, 2011

Grade: B+

Claddagh Irish Pub was in desperate need of a makeover. Catering mostly to local rugby and Gaelic football players and wanderers tired of the Cheesecake Factory wait, the pub wanted to improve its image.

Food at Claddagh has Irish-American flavor. Bobby Mizia, Staff Photographer.

It is tucked away behind a Forever 21 and looks positively humble in comparison to the mammoth establishment across the street, the Cheesecake Factory. Claddagh’s dark pub exterior is such a contrast to the bright surrounding storefronts that on first glance, you almost miss it.

But there’s something charming about Claddagh’s relative anonymity — it’s the type of place you simply happen upon. Claddagh’s management hopes that with its updated and streamlined menu and new attractions, they will be able to draw in the local university crowds by touting the bar as an authentic Irish pub smack-dab in the middle of Pittsburgh.

Regarding the edibility of the fare at Claddagh — well, it’s pub food. That’s not to say it isn’t good, but the menu consists mainly of greasy entrees that go well with a pint — with a few simple salads thrown in for good measure. And as much as Claddagh promotes itself as an authentic Irish pub, its menu is a fusion of Irish and American recipes.

Authentic Irish food tends to be heavy and filling without a lot of taste. By giving a bit of an Irish flair to some familiar American foods — and vice versa — Claddagh has made a very smart move. And nothing displays this as well as the appetizers, which are probably the most interesting part of the menu. There are crab cakes stuffed with potatoes, spinach and artichoke dip on top of a hearty bread, meatballs dipped in ballymaloe relish and — my personal favorite — Yuengling-battered shrimp tossed in a sweet chili sauce.

The entrees were, again, slightly Americanized versions of Irish food. But it works. The food isn’t quite as heavy as usual pub fare, and small tweaks in the traditional Irish recipes mean that you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice taste. Probably the most popular and most highly recommended by the staff were the slow-cooked short ribs, which diners gobbled up happily.

The second staff recommendation was the burger. While the burger and fries themselves were nothing new, it was the ballymaloe relish that really made the dish. Slathered generously over the burger and then with more heaped on the side for dipping, ballymaloe relish is sweet and tangy, with hints of tomatoes, sultanas, onions and various spices — detectable, but not overpowering. It’s a sweet alternative to ketchup and is almost more of a tomato chutney, which adds some interesting Irish flair to the dish.

As an important bonus, each entree came with a recommendation of which beer to pair with it, as well as advice from the staff on drinks. These are definitely welcome aids for those who are less-than-knowledgeable about brews.

The general atmosphere of the restaurant definitely draws its inspiration from classic Irish pubs. Many pubs are designed to be social places and as they’re usually small and stuffed with tables, there is a community atmosphere that fosters conversation between groups.

Claddagh, however, is like most American restaurants. It’s quite large but is divided up into several smaller rooms. This gives it the same intimate feel of a traditional Irish pub while still providing a good amount of restaurant seating.

While not everything has changed in Claddagh, the pub’s modifications have certainly paid off. The implementation of College Night on Thursday, Irish Night and a live band on Wednesday and different drink specials every night add variety. Televisions located around the interior screen all different types of sports that are popular in Ireland, but harder to catch here (rugby, soccer, etc.). All of these improvements have helped Claddagh rise into the same league as — and compete with — its South Side neighbors, Hofbrauhaus and Piper’s Pub.

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