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East County Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020 2 months ago

A shot of Irish authenticity has emerged in Lakewood Ranch

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Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

Bruce Mahnke, a co-owner of Main Street at Lakewood Ranch's newest restaurant, McGrath's Irish Ale House, was just a kid when he would watch his great-grandmother whip together recipes for her very large family.

Elisa McGrath had to have fun in her Pennsylvania kitchen because, well, she had 17 kids. She was spending a lot of time there.

Although he was too young to partake, or understand, Mahnke watched as Gram would line up the alcohol the way many cooks organize the spices. 

"Everything she made had liquor in it," Mahnke said with a laugh. "Beer, wine, whiskey. And Gram always had a little for you, and a little for me."

Chef Isaac Johnson moved from Sarasota's Indigenous to head the kitchen at McGrath's Irish Ale House.

Considering Jameson's whiskey was first introduced in 1780, old Elisa McGrath wasn't the only chef taking a few nips as she was creating culinary masterpieces. And all young Bruce cared about was how her creations tasted.

Flash forward to 2020, with Gram long gone and her recipes most likely considered the junk in someone's kitchen junk drawer. Only Mahnke wasn't about to forget. The co-owner of  Ellenton's Sixty East with Ed's Tavern (Lakewood Ranch) co-owner Bob Bender, Mahnke knew Schroeder-Manatee Ranch wanted an Irish Pub or a streak house in its spot vacated by MacAllister's Grill and Tavern at Main Street at Lakewood Ranch.

SMR had been talking to restaurateur Albert Myara, who co-owns Ed's with Bender and has been very successful at Main Street. Owning another restaurant a stone's throw away from Ed's was compelling to Myara, even if Myara hasn't been an Irish cuisine connoisseur. Bottom line, though, was Myara's desire to scale back after more than 50 years in the business. He owns Captain Eddie's in Nokomis, Bogey's in Venice, and Ed's, and he sold off four other restaurants to clear up more golf time on his calendar.

Mahnke, on the other hand, wasn't about to miss this golden opportunity. What better way to revive his great-grandmother's recipes than to start a restaurant that would honor the authentic part of Irish cooking?  

So Mahnke gathered Bender, Myara and Myara's son, Adam Myara, at his Palmetto home. He started serving everyone those time-honored recipes, such as shepherd's pie, made with lamb, of course, where the lamb had been simmered in Guinness. It takes out the gaminess.

They had a regular feast, topped off by Jameson's bread pudding (the raisins are soaked in whiskey) that also features a homemade Guinness caramel glaze. Mahnke said when Guinness melts down, it makes everything sweet.

McGrath's Irish Ale House was a go, and now has been open two weeks. The two Myaras, Mahnke and Bender are the co-owners.

"To have a restaurant where I can deliver my family's recipes to guests is a great thing," Mahnke said.

It's a great thing for foodies in Lakewood Ranch as well. As we all wait for Waterside Place to open this spring, we wonder what kind of major restaurants they have lined up. It's December and no word yet.

The new decor is fun and exciting.

Owen's Fish Camp has signed up for CASTO's Center Point development on University Parkway in Lakewood Ranch, but no announcement has been made about spaces planned for other restaurants there. The Green at Lakewood Ranch has filled up with fast food restaurants, but nothing yet on its two major spaces dedicated to sit-down restaurants.

Then we come to Main Street at Lakewood Ranch. If anyone is worried Main Street will be hurt by major restaurants coming to the aforementioned locations, Adam Myara said you can stop worrying.

"We know Main Street's potential," Adam Myara said. "I live in Lakewood Ranch and I know we could use more restaurants out here. Owen's is coming and that's great, but we need more with all the homes."

The co-owners, who will employ a staff of approximately 60, added 100 outside seats to McGrath's in a spot that actually overlooks the lake. The decor has been changed and the bar now will include "every Irish beer you can buy on draft and 30 Irish whiskeys." 

Fish and chips has been the top seller so far, but great-grandma's lamb is not scaring people away as shepherd's pie is No. 2.

Elisa would be proud.

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