Claddagh (Maple Grove, MN)
Any of half a dozen companies in Ireland will build an Irish pub to suit your space, ship it and install it. They'll provide you with faux decor and advise you in the finer points of Irish conviviality.
Several of these pubs have popped up around the Twin Cities, including Claddagh, an outpost of an Ohio chain now anchoring a corner of the new Main Street in Maple Grove.
Once you get past the too-perfect fakery of it all, Claddagh is a nice place. It has cozy corners offering a little quiet and privacy and a bustling bar area for a livelier time.
Claddagh pours a fine selection of beers, and Strongbow cider, in a 20-ounce glass. They also offer wine, although the list is so forgettable that we don't recommend anything there.
But as a restaurant, Claddagh is definitely a mixed bag.
Appetizers run from average to bad. The shamrock wings were okay with a mild, sweetly tangy sauce. But the spinach and artichoke dip tasted primarily of cheese and then of spinach. The corned beef and cabbage rolls were a boring cheesy mess, and they needed a sprinkle of malt vinegar to punch up the barely noticeable corned beef flavor.
"Bland" describes much of the Claddagh menu. It feels as if the kitchen is afraid to take any chances and thus has no opportunity to shine.
Take the bangers and mash. We liked the garlicky mashed potatoes, but the sausages were boring. We know that bangers contain a lot of bread filling, but a better-spiced sausage would have enhanced the flavor in important ways.
The beef stew was similarly underspiced. Better would be a traditional Irish lamb stew.
The fish and chips included delicious fish -- nicely breaded and lightly fried -- but the chips were just wrong.
With Irish food, one has some expectations, chiefly concerning potatoes. We can understand not offering the American palate anything as delicious as colcannon (which contains cabbage, heaven forfend). But that is no license to serve deep-fried potatoes that have been dipped in some sort of batter as "chips." A perfectly done French fry is easily made and needs no battering.
Some dishes pleased us. The Trout St. Claren's was a boneless sauteed filet, topped with sun-dried tomatoes, capers and pine nuts -- delicious.
The lamb chop entree was perfectly grilled. The chops were excellent. The small red potatoes alongside were, unfortunately, overcooked and distressingly watery.
Portions are large: six bangers, four lamb chops, two large pieces of fish in a half-order of fish and chips, and so on. Plan on taking some of your meal home, either because you're full or because you're saving room for dessert.
And we definitely recommend dessert; we liked everything we tried, especially the bread pudding and the white chocolate raspberry cheesecake.
Service is friendly but uneven. And the food doesn't always come out of the kitchen hot. Claddagh can be expensive; adding up appetizers, entrees and drinks, dinner is going to cost $40–$50 a person.
Location: 7890 N. Main St., Maple Grove
Phone: 763-773-7400; www.claddaghirishpubs.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Sun.-Thur.; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fri.- Sat.
Atmosphere: Fake Irish pub
Service: Friendly but uneven
Sound level: Surprisingly good for a bar
Recommended dishes: Trout St. Claren's, loin lamb chops
Prices: Appetizers $8–$10, sandwiches $8–$10, entrees $12–$24
Children: No special children's menu