Why you should go: To get your Irish on!
Are you Irish? My last name isn't - my paternal grandma married a French Canadian - but the whole rest of the family is. I grew up outside Boston, "the Irish Capital of America." There's a lot of Irish pubs there. And before we opened Brocach, I was a Midwest regional quality manager for Guinness, which obviously led me to spend a lot of times in Irish pubs in Chicago.
When I was growing up I spent two summers on my grandmother's family farm in Ireland, and while I was employed at Guinness I went back several times. I got a good look at the inner workings of their brewery at St. James Gate, and visiting a lot of Irish pubs on those trips was inspiring.
My wife and my business partner's wife, who both went to school in Madison, thought this would be a great spot for a traditional Irish pub. The one on State Street and Irish Waters were already here, and doing a great job, but replicating the ambience of the real thing wasn't part of their strategy. So we hired a firm, Barnone Design, run by an Irish woman in Ottawa. Their business is designing interiors and exteriors for Irish pubs in America. So we did the donkey work ourselves, and she came in and created the ambience.
We opened in September 2004. Brocach looks very traditional, and three nights a week we feature live Irish music, but we're not exactly a ringer for a pub in Ireland. Here, the food portion of our business is a lot more substantial than it would be there, and that's something we take a lot of pride in.
Does Irish cuisine have sex appeal, or is it more a vehicle for whiskey and stout? Irish food doesn't deserve its reputation. I like it! It can be sexy. These days chefs in Ireland have great ingredients available - terrific seafood and produce. There's a lot of creativity going on.
Like Ireland's new chefs, we've got a mix of traditional and contemporary cuisine. We do corned beef and cabbage on Sundays. We make bangers and mash, but we dress the mashed potatos with a sweet apple-shallot sauce that balances out the salty sausage. Our fish and chips is great - haddock fillet in a Harp lager batter. Our full weekend breakfast is an adventure in Irish food - you get bangers, rashers, black and white pudding and more with your eggs. But we also do wild Alaska salmon, our special roast chicken dinner, penne pasta with grilled eggplant. We try to have something for everybody.
Your St. Patrick's Day specials? Don't expect green beer or any of that hokey stuff! A great everyday pint of Guinness or a sip of Irish whiskey and good pub food, that's what we offer. We haven't finalized our menu yet, but we'll definitely have corned beef and cabbage. This year it's tricky 'cause the holiday falls on Monday - we're not sure how that'll go, but Sunday is parade day, and we're expecting a big weekend. We have to limit the options so the kitchen can have enough prep for very large crowds. There'll be a couple of burgers - items that go well with a few drinks, which is important on St. Paddy's Day.