Here's a story: In the year 2000, Scott Vocca and Vicki Gish met at the Claddagh Cottage Irish Pub on Halloween night. There, they played in a band and made beautiful music together. They got to know each other, fell in love and made more beautiful music together. In February 2016, the couple purchased Claddagh Cottage from Jimmy Mulvaney, and a lifelong dream was realized.
In just a few short months, however, those craic-filled nights gave way to angst. Claddagh, they were told, would be torn down, along with the strip mall in which it was housed. Seems Orlando needed yet another Walgreens, and Vocca and Gish needed to vacate the space by year's end. They were devastated. But then a patron – a firefighter by the name of Scott Egan – came to their emotional and financial rescue by starting a GoFundMe campaign on their behalf. It raised close to $20,000 and, before the couple knew it, the dream was revived and a space in the newly minted Hourglass District secured. A few roadblocks and hurdles were overcome and, in April of this year, Claddagh Cottage was reborn just a mile down the road from the original.
Good story, right? It gets better. The details that made the original pub so inviting and full of character were meticulously re-created – the white plaster walls, wood beams and fireplace, for example – while other original elements were relocated from ye olde tavern, most notably the, umm, boob wall and the original facade, red door and all.
As for me, I'd been longing for a taste of the cottage pie ($11.95) and its meaty melange of gravy-soaked mince, peas, carrots and onions beneath a buttery swirl of mashed potatoes. Under the guidance of chef Justin Murphy, the pie is just as good, and consistent, as it was before. Trust me, I've eaten it eight times in the past three months. No, I'm not an addict, but the pie has restorative powers, particularly after weekly hockey games with the guys.
Other pies of note, like hearty steak and ale ($12.95) or steak and mushroom ($12.95), are just as effective in the recuperative process, but the chicken, leek and mushroom ($12.95) cooked in an herbed white wine sauce may be my fave of the pastry-topped bunch. There are two masala pasties, one chicken ($12.95) and one veggie ($11.95), that add a bit of colonial exotica to the hand-pie offerings.
Yes, of course there's an Irish stew ($6.95 cup; $10.95 bowl), chunked with squares of beef along with carrots and potatoes, all in a swimmingly good beefy broth. In fact, one could probably swim in that broth if there were enough of it; the stew is quite soupy – a "stoup," one of my hockey comrades calls it. Naturally, the place begs for an imperial pint or two of double-poured Guinness to be enjoyed with sausage rolls ($7.95), scotch eggs ($7.95) or a cup of potato-leek soup with house-baked Irish brown bread ($5.95). It's all very traditional, and it's all very scrummy.
That adherence to tradition, or at least a faithfulness to its essence, is what lends Claddagh a quality other such similar establishments would be envious of. It'll leave you smiling, eyes and all, Irish or not.