Cattle 'n Clover seems such a perfect fit for Wildwood, you wonder why no one thought of it before. The modern-day steakhouse and traditional Irish restaurant are melded together to create a fun, casual dining experience that redefines the ordinary Irish pub.
"I thought it was a great concept because when you think Irish, you think meat and potatoes, so the blending of the steakhouse and Irish concepts make perfect sense," Owner John Sheppard says. "When you look at a lot of Irish menus, they have weird things like quesadillas because the Irish haven't been known for that food. Well, that's changing now, and we want to offer great steaks, great seafood, traditional Irish food and great beer all under one roof."
Walk into the newly transformed space that is now Cattle 'n Clover and it's hard not to marvel at the fine details. Guests are greeted in the foyer by a Celtic dragon inlaid into the floor - for protection - and then proceed to a lectern imported from an old church in New York. Dark woods throughout the restaurant are accented by 17,000 red bricks recycled from demolished row homes in Philadelphia.
A huge bar at the center of the restaurant was made from 150-year-old black walnut; a door on the walk-in cooler is from the 1920s; long tables are constructed from reclaimed antique oak; and authentic Irish imports include stained glass windows and wood panels on its outside patio.
"We really wanted to make it authentic - not a bar painted green and called an Irish pub," Sheppard says. "We wanted it to feel like it has been there for more than 200 years because most of it has … but with air conditioning and flat-screen TVs everywhere."
The menu, designed by Executive Chef Jeffrey Fairman, screams eclectic. Most people could eat off the appetizer menu alone.
Irish nachos ($9.99) are made with homemade potato crisps topped with cheddar cheese, tomato, onions, hot peppers, Irish bacon and sour cream. Homemade mozzarella sticks ($7.99) are the best you may ever taste. Corned beef and cabbage spring rolls ($7.99) feature mashed potatoes inside and are served with a spicy Jameson mustard sauce.
Fried olives ($8.99) are stuffed with blue cheese and the tater tots ($8.99) are a reason to go to the restaurant, homemade and topped with a blue cheese cream sauce and Irish bacon.
"We definitely had some fun with the appetizers menu by taking some traditional things and turning them into finger food," Sheppard says. "Plus, if there's another way to make a potato that's not on this menu, I don't know about it. There's tater tots, potato chips for our nachos, potato skins and our side dishes are potatoes this and potato that. We wanted a menu that you really want to come in with a group of people and share."
A variety of soups, salads and sandwiches - try the corned beef ($11.99) or blackened prime rib ($13.99) - make the menu approachable, but the burgers are a main reason to go.
The steakhouse burger ($11.99), for example, is made with a special blend of meat - at least 8 ounces - with a high fat content, topped with frizzled onions, fried pickle spear and house-made boursin cheese served on an onion brioche roll.
"It was a painstaking process to find that right blend of meats, but now I think it's the best burger you will find in the area," Sheppard says. "It makes you sit up straight when you bite into it. The char grill we have gives it such a super crunch on the outside."
It's rare to find a steakhouse with a steak that doesn't exceed $30, but Cattle 'n Clover does not feature a single item on the entire menu for more than $29.99, including the 9-ounce filet, the 20-ounce prime rib or the 14-ounce T-bone.
"We want to keep it affordable for the whole family to come," Sheppard says. "We wanted to keep those prices down so we buy whole loins and pieces of meat and butcher them ourselves. We can offer good quality without the high prices that you encounter when things are pre-portioned. Then we use other parts for shepherd's pie, our stews and other stuff."
The standout steak is the C'n C Strip ($26.99), a 12-ounce New York strip dry-rubbed with cocoa, cinnamon and coffee, topped with tobacco and Bailey's demi reduction.
"I eat steak a lot and I can get tired of the same steaks being prepared the same way," Sheppard says. "But all the flavors on this one are over the top. By itself, I wouldn't eat any of the ingredients. I don't drink coffee or smoke tobacco and I am not crazy about cinnamon and I don't drink Bailey's, but all of these flavors work unbelievably together. I bit into it and I was like, 'Holy crap.'"
Other dishes include Irish Surf 'n Turf ($17.99) with beer-battered fish and chips plus a side of shepherd's pie; grilled mahi ($27.99) topped with caramelized apple brandy sauce with Jameson mustard potato salad; Black'n Tan beer can chicken ($14.99); an Irish trio ($19.99) with bangers, Irish bacon and corned beef with Colcannon mashed potatoes; and lamb shank ($28.99) marinated in tarragon, mint, garlic and honey then slow roasted and served with au gratin potatoes.
"Even the fish and chips - we are using cod loins instead of cutoffs like most people use," Sheppard says. "We are trying to do everything two steps better. It's about fresh ingredients and really cooking. We even make our own homemade mozzarella sticks. Who does that?"
Sheppard thinks he's on to something with Cattle 'n Clover.
"The response has been amazing," he says. "People are just so comfortable when they come here. And they are really liking the whole experience: great food, great music, great drinks. What else can you ask for?"
What Irish pub wouldn't have a bar? Cattle 'n Clover has two, including an outdoor patio. There are 16 beers on tap, including Smithwick's, Guiness, Harp, Murphy's and Magner's hard cider, plus amazing specialty drinks such as the Whiskey Crush (single-malt Jim Beam, blackberry puree, pressed sugar caneand lemon juice all served in a mason jar) and the Celtic Lemonade (Celtic Crossing, fresh lemonade and soda) that is the perfect summer drink. DJs or live music - Stellar Mojo and Animal House are slated to play - are offered daily beginning at 6 p.m. There is never a cover. And a best-of late-night menu is offered from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
Dinner and show
One of the most amazing deals you will find in Wildwood is the Dinner and Show offer. For every entree purchased at Cattle 'n Clover, Juan Pablo's or Goodfish Grill, diners receive one free ticket for the Casba Comedy Club, which is located on the same block on Atlantic Avenue, an easy walk from all three restaurants. The club brings in top-notch comedians such as Joey Kola, Jim Florentine, Dom Irrera, Mike Marino and more. There are shows nightly at 8 and 10:30 p.m.
Who has the Guinness World Record for the heaviest and longest meat and potato pie? Cattle 'n Clover does. It weighed 1,807 pounds and was 250 feet long. "It was called a meat and potato pie because we used diced beef and not lamb, so it couldn't be called a shepherd's pie," Owner John Sheppard says. "But it was amazing. And the entree version is on our menu for $9.99. There aren't too many restaurants that have entrees for $9.99 anymore. So you can come in here, try it and be part of history."