Pub Fare Extraordinaire at Inishmor Pub in Colchester

Hope Simmons

Meet Alex Levere—his roots may be French and German, but the luck of the Irish is clearly smiling upon him. He grew up in the restaurant industry on the shoreline, spent some time in Europe—specifically, you guessed it, in Ireland—in his early 20s, then Boston during his college years and beyond.

“Long story short, the economy crashed, I graduated, and there was nothing really going on, so I was bartending at a place, and they offered me an assistant management job. So, I took that, then I went to manager. Then I went to general manager and, right before the place was sinking, the head chef quit, so I took over the kitchen. I was like, I know I can do this, and I did it, but it was too little, too late. And that’s when we came across this place!”

Now he’s turning out some truly inventive flavors at the Inishmor Pub in Colchester. “Everyone’s like, how do you have an Irish pub, you’re not even Irish? In fact, he’s not a trained chef, either. But his passion for the cuisine and culture shines through. “I just think I’m good at it. I like cooking—I think it’s fun. I don’t think I’m an extraordinary cook; I don’t call myself a chef—I’m not a chef. But I think I can come up with cool ideas and keep things simple and I do understand how to put certain flavors together.” And that’s what he’s doing and doing very well.

Photo Credit: Winter Caplanson

Photo Credit: Winter Caplanson

It starts with exceptionally buttery corned beef, but hardly ends there. We’re talkin’ half-pound 100 percent organic burgers (straight from Colchester’s Scarpa Ledge Farm), creative salads and a cast-iron skillet shepherd’s pie that puts to shame any ideas of what you thought this dish was in your childhood. Even the grilled raisin bread on the side is noteworthy—just another nod to the hyperlocal sourcing, it comes from Harpo’s Bakery in South Glastonbury. Vegetables take a quick trip from farm to plate via Cugno’s Farm (certified USDA organic) and Savitsky’s Farm, both right in Colchester.

While the daily menu offerings in and of themselves feel special, Alex features something different as specials each week. One Friday night, we trekked out for Scotch eggs—out of this world orbs, coated in sausage, then fried, served with a spicy mustard and pickled onions.

He explains his approach, “I sit down on the Monday, I think about what I want to do. First, I look at the weather for the week—then I gear the specials around the weather. I take one or two days and I really sit down and think about what I want to do, then I talk to the vendors, get the best quality products I can, bring it in and it’s just little by little.”

“You can make food look good—and you can do it right. It’s part of the German in me, you know? I’ve got this French side, and I’m like, let’s make it look beautiful, and the German’s like (assumes robotic voice à la Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator), SHUT UP, GOT TO GET IT OUT, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. It’s been fun.” The result is delicious food with a local focus and creative presentation that elevates Irish pub fare far beyond the basics.

Continuing with what’s new and different, Alex recently introduced some knockout summer menu additions. Among them, a balsamic-marinated, grilled steak tips salad over arugula. It pairs beautifully with candied peaches, Gorgonzola, blackberries and a confetti sprinkling of red onion.

Another new favorite (so many favorites, so little time) is the flavorful and wildly outfitted jammer burger loaded with blackberry jam—spiced with cinnamon and allspice--then covered in soft, oozy burrata and served with thick sweet potato planks.

But on the regular menu, there are plenty of options for both carnivores and herbivores alike—quinoa burger, anyone?

The chilled English cucumber salad with almost paper-thin radishes and feta in a homemade red wine vinaigrette is a light and crunchy starter.

As noted in my staff picks for top CT eats in 2016, the triple-decker Irish Monte Cristo with tender corned beef and Swiss between egg-soaked Texas toast, drizzled with maple syrup is a completely chart-topping taste sensation. The thick Texas toast reminds me a bit of challah, and is generously stuffed with meat. And the potato wedges/steak fries served alongside, flecked with coarse salt, are crispy outside and fluffy within.

For variations on a corned beef theme, try the Reuben. Or the corned beef hash, that was a special on a recent visit. Naturally, there’s corned beef and cabbage, too.

Or how about a homemade mac ’n cheese that’s truly outrageous—cavatappi pasta in a four-cheese sauce, topped with Ritz cracker crumbs with an add-on “cheese bomb” to take it straight over the top: melted burrata, Asiago and crumbled bacon. It’s insanely indulgent and hard to stop eating

Back in June, they launched their strictly whisky-based cocktail menu. There are six to choose from, all made with different varieties of Compass Box Scotch whisky. We absolutely loved the Lady Marmalade (Orangerie Scotch, Spice Tree Scotch, splash of blood orange liqueur, muddled orange and brown sugar) and the Orange Manhattan (Hedonism Scotch, sweet vermouth, orange Curaçao, Grand Marnier, orange bitters and an orange twist). “We’ve never done a cocktail list here. One of the reasons—and I always tried to stick with it—is if you ever walked into a pub in Ireland and asked for a cocktail list, they’d laugh at you. Unless you went to one of the higher end joints, but if you go into a pub—he’ll tell you in less polite terms than I’m telling you! So, at first, it was like, if they don’t do it there, why do we have to do it?” But what a great addition to the other numerous offerings at the bar—a long and ever-changing list of what’s on tap, wine, whiskies and more.

“It’s been a really great three years,” Alex says. “Maybe it is my passion. At 34 years old, no one ever says you’re supposed to have your life figured out. I know it’s what I’m good at. There’s two things I learned in life. My ex-girlfriend’s uncle back in Ireland, we’re out drinking at the pub one night. He goes, define success. And me, being young and stupid, I said, have lots of money. And went like this (swings in the air) and he hit me! He said SHUT UP! Define success! I said, I don’t know. And he goes, be good at what you do. And I think that’s always stuck with me here. It’s not about the money, just be good at what you do.”

“And the other was from a former head chef, we worked together in a nightmare scenario up in Boston. He looked at me and he said, every day, just one time a day when you’re at work, take a minute and step back and just watch people having fun. So now, every time I’m working, I’ll come out and just stand by the host stand—I just watch. I see them laughing and talking or a first date or whatever, and you’re like, wow, they came here to do that. It’s really humbling. It’s really special.”

Inishmor Pub is located at 20 Main Street in Colchester, CT.