I always find it curious that while modern American cuisine continues to innovate and evolve at an apparently exponential pace, Midwestern interpretations of international cuisines seem jelled and unchanged since around the mid-1970s. It's almost as if international cooking hasn't evolved at all, which is a shame.
Ireland, with its wealth of game, fresh and seawater fish and extraordinary produce, boasts a profusion of excellent restaurants whose talented chefs take full advantage of nature's generosity. So it seems strange and somehow irrational that Irish restaurants on these shores continue to serve the bog-standard fare we have all come to know and grudgingly accept. To make matters worse, two staples of many Irish restaurants, namely the Reuben and the Boxty, have nothing to do with the Emerald Isle whatsoever, but are wildly popular.
So having established the parameters of Irish food in the U.S. how does Brockway in Carmel stack up? Well, it's a lot of fun, for a start. Modeled after a Dublin industrial bar (clean lines, lots of wood, European soccer on the TV), this is a great place to visit for a cold pint of Guinness (the best in town, they say, and I agree wholeheartedly), a bite of something simple and a bit of a sing-along at weekends.
Aside from the Guinness, the beer selection, short and to the point, is excellent. Recently they've been running the Cycle IPA from Flat 12, as well as an offering from Sun King and the wonderful nitro-powered Milk Stout from Left Hand. The friendly and effusive bar staff know their drinks and know their rugby, essential qualities in an Irish pub.
While the atmosphere is lively and the staff friendly, the food represents a bit of a sticking point. At various times, it's been excellent, and at others lackluster. Outstanding is the battered fish sandwich ($8.50), generous chunks of battered Icelandic cod in a soft and fresh roll. This was some of the best fried fish I'd had in years and brought back happy childhood memories of the corner chippy. Also excellent was the appetizer flight ($10.90): a generous serving of the unusual and savory corned beef spring rolls, succulent strips of lightly breaded and fried chicken and the Dublin pub chips, a starchy and more-ish fried potato dish with bacon and cheese. Not the kind of food you want to eat every day, but good as an occasional indulgence.
On the negative side was the burger voted best in Indy by ESPN. What they are doing judging food is anyone's guess, but this was a disappointment at $8.75. Bland, overcooked and under-seasoned, it was a chore to eat. Similarly, the shepherd's pie at $8.50 was thin and soupy, more like lamb soup than pie. Although the flavor was decidedly lamby, the texture was all wrong, with a sad looking island of soggy mashed potato floating on top.
Brockway offers live music every Friday and Saturday evening, and keeps the calendar busy with special events, some sports-related, some involving motorcycles.
In spite of the occasional culinary shortcoming, I would certainly go back for the beer and the gregarious staff. Stick to the appetizers, the fish and chips and the beer, and you'll have a fine old time.