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Chow Down In Milwaukee

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Southside Gem Perfect for a Cocktail

Here at Chow Down in Milwaukee we like to discover unique local restaurants that may otherwise escape your attention. One such place was brought to my attention recently. McKiernan’s Irish Pub & Grill located at 2066 s 37th st in Milwaukee is a place you would not be likely to find unless you are looking for it. Nestled in a decidedly residential south-side neighborhood, McKiernan’s could be easy to miss.

The business is owned by Gene McKiernan. If that name sounds familiar, it is because it is the same gentleman who owns Barnacle buds and Victoria’s. I could list the other businesses which Gene has owned, but alas we would have not much room left for our review. Upon approaching Mc Kiernan’s that evening, I could not help but notice how out of place the building looked. That is not to say there is anything wrong with the building, quite the contrary. Built in 1900, the building has tremendous amount of character and charm. The door which you enter through was fascinating in its own right.

Once inside you will see a bar unlike any other. Resembling the inside of a log cabin with wood floors, walls and ceiling. You had to look hard to see any wood in the last two as the walls and yes, even the ceiling, were covered with signs and collectable items. Let me make it clear that these were not your average neon beer signs, but those collected by a gentleman who has seen his share of establishments. These include the wooden menu sign from The Warf, a restaurant Gene McKiernan used to own on Silver Spring Drive. Gene originally came to Milwaukee not as a bar owner, but to open Barnaby’s. It was a pizza place that he had worked as a kitchen supervisor for in Madison. Even the old wooden sign from that establishment can be seen on the north wall of the bar.

Back to the three travelers on the evening in question, which included my mother, Jeanna, my lovely lady Margie and myself. We were greeted right away by our very friendly and enthusiastic bartender Jodie. She explained we had the option of either eating at the bar or being seated in the back room. Out of curiosity to see even more of this eclectically decorated bar we chose the back room. We were not disappointed. It looked like you came into someone’s dining room, albeit someone with a very interesting collection and unique style of decorating. There was a welcoming feel to the entire place.

Wooden tables and chairs as well as a wooden ledge that was made from wood salvaged from the docks by Barnacle Buds gave the place a very cozy feel. There was a wooden staircase separating the back room from the bar. We were told it led to an office, but all we knew was it added to the charm. The ceiling in back was also filled with oddities and curiosities. It took as all a few minutes to get to the menu as there was something to notice at every angle.

We each ordered a drink. My mother a Jameson and sour. Margie a bottle of Modelo and myself a Margarita which happened to be on special for five dollars that night. Our drinks were prepared and served by Jodie in a very short amount of time. They all tasted wonderful and were a rather good bargin.

While perusing the menu we were introduced to our cook for the evening, Jerome. Personally, he reminded me of a young Les Brown, who is one of my favorite motivational speakers. That gave him extra credit right off the bat. Being that we were currently seated in a bar with an Irish name we decided to order the Reuben Rolls which were served with horseradish thousand island dressing. We were informed that at McKiernan’s they brine their own corn beef. When they arrived, there were four good sized portions with two sides of the afore mentioned dressing. They had a slightly tough outer shell, but a very good flavor. The horseradish thousand island dressing had the perfect blend of the two elements.

I must mention while deciding on a menu selection, we were entertained with a back and forth banter between our server/bartender Jodie and our cook Jerome. This not only provided some interesting and humorous moments but added to the feeling of being served in someone’s dining room.

My mother ordered first, as she was the first ready with a selection. She ordered the Pub Burger a 1/3-pound patty grilled to your liking. My mother also added cheddar cheese and onions. When the burger arrived is was thick and juicy. I am not exactly sure what type of bun they are served on, but it held up quite well without being difficult to chew. You can choose between a side of French fries, chips or slaw to accompany your burger. My mother chose the fries which were crinkle cut and rather tasty. You also got a pickle that was fresh and frim.

Margie decided to go with something off the Irish Fare menu. She chose the Mckiernan’s Irish Club which featured their slow-cooked brisket served on toasted rye, topped with swiss, lettuce, tomato and bacon. Sadly, the rye bread this sandwich was normally served on was not delivered. Jerome, being quick on his feet, made Margie two mini clubs on the smaller rye which they had available. The presentation was minimal, being served on paper in a plastic basket, but smelled amazing. This sandwich was decidedly average. The corned beef could have had a stronger flavor and the club could have benefited from a spicy sauce. The flavor itself was good, but I think could be greatly improved on with a little effort. It was also served with a side of fries and a pickle.

Lastly, was my order. When we were originally contacted about trying McKiernan’s Irish Pub & Grill it was for Mexican Monday. Being that one of us ordered traditional pub fare and one ordered Irish fare, I felt it prudent to order off the special Mexican menu for which we were invited. I settled on a taco dinner served with rice and beans. I chose two beef and one chicken. When the plate arrived, the presentation was not half bad. There was a generous helping of both rice and beans. The tacos looked fresh and it came with both a side of salsa and sour cream. I tried the chicken taco first. The lettuce and Tomato were fresh and crisp as you would hope. The chicken lacked any spicy or Mexican flavor. Overall, this taco was a disappointment. That was until I tried the beef. Much like the chicken taco I found the other ingredients in the taco to be very fresh. The beef, however, not only lacked flavor, but had a rather unpleasing texture, almost as if it were reconstituted. Next was the rice. To say the rice was a tad dry would be to imply the box from which is came was a tad moist. The beans were only slightly better. After a slight issue with the cheese, the staff did take this menu off the bill, but I would recommend staying away from the Mexican Monday menu.

Overall, McKiernan’s Irish Pub & Grill is a perfectly charming gem to sit down and enjoy a cocktail with the friendly and helpful staff. The ambience will leave you wondering if you were invited over to someone’s house. If Jodie is behind the bar, she will certainly entertain you and keep you laughing. The drinks are not only tasty, but a great value as well. If the urge to eat strikes you while you are enjoying your tasty, well-priced beverage, I would suggest sticking to the traditional pub fare or even some of the tasty appetizers but avoiding the Mexican Monday menu. I would certainly return to McKiernan’s for a cocktail and pleasant conversation, maybe even a burger. It certainly deserves checking out for the ambience and history surrounding the building and what is inside.

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