Ireland's Steakhouse is an outpost of culinary excellence near the mouth of Alligator Alley. Here, you'll find a restaurant that produces straightforward cuts of grilled beef while showing spunk with menu items some may consider offbeat for a steakhouse. Additionally, Ireland's prides itself on its use of sustainable ingredients, even going so far as to provide eco-friendly takeout boxes.
When we arrived, we were struck by how nestled away the restaurant feels, despite its being just a quarter-mile from a major highway. The smart landscaping, and the restaurant's position in the heart of the Hyatt Regency Bonaventure, create a sense of quiet retreat. Yet despite its location at a resort, more than half of the diners here on a typical night are locals. The layout of the restaurant is divided into compartments of varying elevation, giving most tables a cozy feel that belies the restaurant's size. The skilled servers know how to strike a balance between catering to experienced foodies and explaining to diners some of the less-common menu items.
We started with an appealing basket of pretzel bread, potato bread and sun-dried tomato crisps with Parmesan cheese, paired with honey-orange butter, unsalted butter and mustard butter, which goes particularly well with the pretzel bread. Next to the bread is a colored glass dish with four tiny cavities containing black salt (for red meats), Hawaiian red salt (for fish or red meat), Himalayan pink salt (recommended for some of the appetizers) and plain white sea salt.
With our appetites whetted, an assortment of seafood appetizers arrived, beginning with a playful bowl of sweet, red-pepper soup ($9), paired with a bowl of mascarpone cheese, asparagus and jumbo lump crab.
Sea scallops with poached pear and pepper slaw ($13) are plump and arrive sizzling, spouting a delightful fragrance. You'll want it to linger on your tongue for as long as possible.
Another not-to-miss item is the sauteed shrimp ($16), perched upon a mini arepa and topped with a ball of guasacaca, a Venezuelan avocado paste. While it's a peculiar dish for a hotel steakhouse, it's dynamic, earthy and one of the most entertaining things we'd sampled in some time.
After repeated customer demand, Ireland's recently began serving stone crabs, resulting in a moist, satisfying appetizer. But since our served failed to warn us of the $70 price tag, our appreciation of it soured when the check arrived.
As we made our way through the appetizers, another server arrived with a wooden box. Inside were four steak knives, including a thin, petite knife that the women at our table selected and a husky, black-handled weapon.
Whatever a steakhouse's style and affectations, most diners will judge it by one simple combination: a cut of beef with potato. When Ireland's takes a potato, tops it with roasted garlic and works it into a texture that is thick yet creamy and buttery, the discerning diner will chuckle at how enjoyable a simple bowl of mashed potatoes ($9) can be. The cheesy, potatoes au gratin ($9) are similarly masterful. There's also a bowl of seasoned waffle fries topped with bites of lobster tail in a creamy Américaine sauce ($12), a side dish that would be a memorable entree at another restaurant. And don't miss out on the lobster mac and cheese ($16), with gnocchi soaked in a gooey cheese. Be advised that the sides here are the size of entrees, and are meant to be shared.
The 20-ounce bone-in rib eye ($48) is a perfectly grilled piece of steak that will haunt you for weeks. At Ireland's, you have the choice of four sauces: truffle bordelaise, bearnaise, red Zinfandel-peppercorn and chimichurri. Tasty to be sure, but think long and hard before defiling this perfect steak with a drop of anything. Also enticing is the hard-to-find, 8-ounce spinalis steak ($38), the cap of a rib eye, seasoned with more character than the larger rib eye and topped with caramelized shallots.
You can't go wrong with chicken mattone ($32), a zesty, on-the-bone, lemon-infused chicken cooked between clay bricks for a crispy skin, all topped with a roast head of garlic. You'll do well to try some of Ireland's creative fish presentations, among them yellowtail snapper in a miso-ginger sauce over an Asian vegetable slaw ($37).
Dessert at Ireland's is best shared. First-time visitors will be drawn to a pair of excellent dessert trios. First is a chocolate sampler ($10), the star being a chocolate espresso pot de creme with chocolate espresso beans , which had one of us staring at the ramekin as if it were a newborn puppy. Also enticing were a ball of chocolate gelato atop crushed chocolate mint cookie, as well as rich, nutty hazelnut mousse. For the second dessert trio ($12), you'll find an outstanding creme brulee, a rich, tart cheesecake with fresh berries and a dark, provocative chocolate-espresso pudding.
We'll remember Ireland's for its amusing touches, such as the knife box and four salts. But when I next fire up my grill, I'll be thinking of a certain 20-ounce rib eye.
250 Racquet Club Road, Weston
Hours: 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Moderate
For kids: Kids menu, high chairs
Wheelchair accessible: Yes