Irish pub tempts with beer, bangers and Bono
Special to The Seattle Times
If you don't favor loud music and secondhand smoke with your supper, no need to read on. You'd best avoid the newest Irish pub in town, just as you'd best avoid Ireland.
If you perversely relish these last brave outposts of happy self-destruction, you'll find much to adore at Clever Dunne's on Capitol Hill. There's whiskey shots, fried food and chocolate cake, too!
It's a vast and weathered space, ideally situated at Olive Way's lapse into downtown, with that neighborhood's usual suspects (artistic youth, disaffected youth, beautiful youth) — and Irish people — for patrons. Here, against these old brick walls and long windows and upon these nicked wood floors, everyone looks appropriately brooding and impossibly cool. There's a pool table and a darts alley, for those who like a little gaming with their Guinness, but for the rest of us there's simply a whole lot of beer (hard stuff, too) and a gleefully unhealthful menu.
Ye gotcher bangers 'n' mash (grilled pork sausages over mashed potatoes with onion gravy), yer breaded 'n' deep-fried mushrooms with garlic butter sauce, yer BLTs made with thick rashers of Irish bacon, yer Guinness-battered fish 'n' — urp — chips. Gaelic authenticity shows up in dishes like the traditional Irish cold plate — cukes, tomatoes and slices of boiled egg, along with coleslaw, sliced baked ham and terrific Irish brown bread — and peas 'n' chips, in which mushy peas (they're supposed to be — they're Batchelor's very specific brand) are piled on top of thick (average, alas) fries.
The good news is, it's all an affectionate homage to owner Bernie McGuire's Irish grandfather, Trevor (aka "Clever") Dunne. The bad news is, the food's hit and miss. If it's your kind of place, you'll love it, down to the saucy Irish barmaid and Bono wailing on the sound system. If it's not your kind of place ... well, you probably wouldn't like Ireland either.
Guinness braised beef: This appetizer should have been a far sight better, especially given the densely delicious homemade Irish brown bread with slabs of butter that arrived alongside. Without that, this was just another plate of average overcooked beef that I find extremely hard to believe was braised in the first place.
Irish house salad: As no Guinness salad was available (!), we settled on the house salad and were simply satisfied. Leafy greens, boiled eggs, red onions and tomato were the show, along with chunky blue cheese dressing.
Shepherd's pie: Wonderful! Done well, this traditional dish blends savory and bland to satisfying effect — and Clever's is done very well. The beef stew featured plenty of beef, peas, carrots, potatoes and enough crunchy green onions for interest. The mashed-potato lid was a wonderment of comfort, gilded under the broiler in the last few minutes.
Guinness beer-battered fish 'n' chips: The folks in Clever's kitchen really must work on the exceptionally dreary chips — thick, flavorless — as they are a mainstay of the menu and one of the cultural centerpieces of the U.K. Luckily the fish far outshone them: fillets of juicy cod swathed in darkly hearty Guinness batter and fried to puffy glory. And I could've done with more than the tiny pot of uncommonly creamy coleslaw that accompanied.
Chocolate Guinness cake: "Oblivion," was how our barmaid wistfully described it. Those Irish do have a way with words. The densest imaginable chocolate cake, the consistency of newly hewn timber, was glued together with fudgy frosting and crowned with superfluous whipped cream and chocolate sauce. A heartier, denser, more deeply chocolaty wedge of cake I've yet to meet.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Guinness braised beef $8.00
Irish house salad (small) $3.95
Shepherd's pie $8.95
Guinness beer-battered fish 'n' chips $8.95
Chocolate Guinness cake $4.95
Kathryn Robinson: KathAnRob@aol.com
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