At least once a year, on St. Patrick's Day, many Americans take to the streets in search of an Irish way to celebrate. There's no reason to settle for fake green beer at chain outlets when there are wee mom-and-pop pubs that can dish out the real deal, like Claddagh Cottage, on Curry Ford Road, of all places. Keep your eyes open as you drive east from Semoran Boulevard past the blur of shopping strips to spot the sliver storefront and shamrocked sign.
Inside Claddagh (pronounced KLA-dah) Cottage, it's like a scene from "The Quiet Man." Faded lace curtains hang in the windows, wooden beams crisscross on the ceiling. Dusty black-and-white photos of the old country fill the walls, and the whistles of Irish folk music fill the air. Instead of John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, you'll find proprietors Jimmy and Kathy Mulvaney, formerly of Dublin and Limerick, respectively. They keep the ale flowing, fortified by traditional Irish stick-to-your-ribs meat-and-potatoes fare.
Jimmy Mulvaney claims to serve the best pint of Guinness in town, using a "double-pour" method that's been approved by the brewery: He fills the glass three-fourths of the way, then allows time for settling before topping off with a smooth, creamy head ($3.50). He refined his art at Mulvaney's Irish Pub on Church Street, which he co-founded with his brothers before branching off. The two pubs are different as night and day. Where Mulvaney's is a polished club that attracts a business crowd by day and barflies by night, Claddagh Cottage is a neighborhood draw, where the beer splatters on the wall only add to the character.
We visited on a Sunday, and some menu items weren't available, like "Cottage pie" ($5.25), a beefy stew crowned with mashed potatoes. So we started with a "country sausage roll" ($4.25). It was a glorified pig-in-a-blanket, but good, with two links of mild Irish pork sausage baked in puff pastry. We tried a steak and mushroom pastry pie, and another with chicken and mushrooms ($5.25 each). Both were filled with savory, meaty gravy inside buttery crusts. We also enjoyed a steamy "Dubliner" sandwich ($5.50), stuffed with shredded roast beef, sautéed onions and melted Swiss cheese.
Claddagh Cottage is laid-back, so don't expect speedy service or get in a twist if some items aren't available. Expect a friendly crowd that includes genuine Irish expatriates lined up at the bar, as well as others trying to soak in that world-famous Irish charm.