Saturday, March 1, 2008

McCleary's Pub-lic House

This year, St. Patrick’s Day, which is usually on March 17, was changed to Saturday, March 15 by the Roman Catholic Church to avoid conflicting with Holy Week…which made it all the more convenient to celebrate the boisterous holiday of all-things-green officially on a Saturday night! So for my next food critic article, how can I review anything other than an Irish pub? So off we went to McCleary’s Public House in Marietta on a Friday night.

McCleary's is a wonderfully cozy and warm space. It’s got a good vibe running throughout. A neighborhood haunt where everyone from young whipper-snappers all the way to the, uh, vintaged, occupies the same space, which lends a conviviality that's sincere and amiable. So heed my warning. When they say "reservations strongly recommended," make one. Seriously.

First, it should be noted that their beer list is more expansive than what I have typically seen in Lancaster. They have Guinness on tap, and that’s all I need. We eased our way into feast with the clam appetizer ($9.95). A dozen little neck clams sautéed in a lemon butter white wine sauce, garnished with tomatoes and parmesan cheese. The sauce is delicious, so don’t waste it. Ask for garlic bread, and turn the leftover tomato concoction into a bruschetta twist.

Next in line—the tomato bisque ($2.95c/$3.75b). Basic cream tomato flavor that was pulpier than I would have preferred, garnished with parmesan cheese on top. Now the sprinkling of cheese was a tease, and it suddenly made me wish this was a tomato bisque prepared a la French Onion Soup. Nice crispy croutons stirred into the bisque and then blanketed with a layer of bubbling Gruyere cheese. Now THAT would be delectable! As it was, it was good, but basic.

On to the Shepherd’s Pie ($11.95). You should know that I’m a bit obsessive about Shepherd’s Pie. I didn’t grow up with it, nor do I even have an ethnic bond with the dish, but I consider it one of my comfort foods. I wish I could say I loved the Shepherd’s Pie at McCleary’s, but I don’t. The gravy is a nice consistency and the flavor is good, but it’s not great. It didn’t come out as piping hot as it should have, which is definitely a factor with a dish like this. And aesthetically, I prefer the mashed potatoes as a blanket over the entire dish, sealing in all the heat and keeping everything moist. But more than that, I like the anticipation of “the dig.” It’s like a treasure hunt; breaking into something awesome and looking to discover what’s underneath. At McClearly’s, the mashed potatoes are two ice-cream-like scoops set on top of all the gooey graviness. No treasure hunt. So sad.

Lastly, there are the fries. Now, I would only talk about fries if they were worth talking about. They’re a side, for goodness sakes. So this should tell you that they are great! Crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside. Just the way a great fry should be.

This leads me to believe that the folks in the kitchen are quite adept at those things which are fried. So I’m thinking I’ll order the Fish and Chips the next time I visit McCleary’s. Because this is the thing: I’m not going there for the main purpose of the cuisine. And don’t get me wrong, it’s good. It’s solid. There are items there that are delicious, and I believe further exploration of their menu will uncover these gems. My main purpose for going is because of the good vibes, the friendly service, the neighborhood atmosphere, and because the Irish know how to have a good time, and this place is definitely that.

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