The double-pattied Capitol burger is heavy on the cheese and tasty.
The first snow has hit us, the color palette of our corner of the world shifting from earth tones to white and gray and black. If there’s a season for the hearty, carby fare one usually finds on an Irish menu, it’s winter.
Brocach on the Square used to be an Irish pub in a loud, slightly theme park-y way. The interior design came by way of an Irish pub design firm, lending a just-add-Guinness kind of authenticity. Still, it delivered an ambience.
The restaurant closed from the end of May to the beginning of October for a total makeover. In the process, dark-stained walls turned to plaster white, and velvety cushions gave way to blond-ish wood. It went from Irish pub to Every American Bistro.
The facade is matte black, and it’s hard to see in the windows, too, giving the impression it’s not quite open for business. Counterintuitively, the dining room is too bright. It feels too much like a restaurant in a hip apartment that’s between tenants, or a museum without art.
The menu retains some Irish classics, but veers to a more mainstream American bistro selection. A four-item brunch menu includes a proper English breakfast called the Large Brocach Breakfast. House-made bangers and blood sausage lead off the usual lineup of potatoes, bacon, grilled tomato, bacony baked beans, toast and two eggs your way. Even though my blood sausage was missing, it was still a large breakfast. It’s the kind of thing you’d want to eat after a morning of shoveling.
Otherwise the menu is heavy on lunch, with only a handful of dishes unique to the dinner menu. One, the half roasted chicken, is in fact fully roasted and equally delicious — crisp skin with plenty of lemon and herbs, and juicy meat. The reuben is an excellent, meaty rendition of the classic. The horseradish cream was imperceptible, but the sandwich didn’t suffer because of it. It’s okay if it’s a regular, unfussy reuben. The beef pot pie, on the other hand, begged for salt. Its voluminous puff pastry topper was the highlight.
Sides were confusing. Entrees often came with fries without that being listed on the menu, so it was hard to know whether to order sides or not. The fries and mashed potatoes were fine, and the mac and cheese would have been, too, if it had been hot. Avoid the caramelized cabbage and bacon; mine was limp, sour and entirely uncaramelized.
Spend time with the starters, instead. I liked the croquettes, a thin skin of fried bread crumbs around quite a bit of creamy mashed potatoes and bacon. The crab, corn and bacon dip was light on bacon, but not everything actually needs bacon. With its clean flavors and roasty, blistered surface, the dip was a pleasant callback to summer.
Seafood can be found all over the menu, from a clam “chowdah” that’s mostly potato and corn but still okay, to a spendy lobster roll. I liked the buttery toasted bun, and the lobster was plentiful, but the flavor of the celery slaw dominated. Fish and chips stuck the landing with a savory batter, moist fish and dill-heavy tartar sauce.
The isthmus is being overtaken by the greasy, unfancy, lo-fi double cheeseburger (see also Lucille, Forequarter), and Brocach’s double-pattied Capitol burger is heavy on the American cheese. It’s a pretty nice burger, and fits in well with this trend, but it also feels like the kind of thing you can find anywhere now.
One of our servers mentioned chef Kate Magee’s pastry experience and expertise, and the hefty slice of carrot cake with a coconut frosting proved it. Why, then, Brocach would also serve a pre-made cheesecake is beyond me. If you manage to save room, save it for the housemade stuff.
The new Brocach is a challenging restaurant to get a grasp on. In its old iteration, its allegiance to Ireland was clear, but in its new form, it’s a cipher, an almost blank slate. Whether in the form of better ambience, more consistent execution from the kitchen, or just the subtle weathering of time, Brocach needs to find its new identity.
Brocach Irish Pub
7 W. Main St., 608-255-2015; brocach.com, $4 - $22, 5 pm-midnight Mon., 11 am-midnight Tues.-Thurs., 11 am-2 am Fri.-Sat., 11 am-midnight Sun.