The Crooked Shillelagh Celtic Kitchen + Drinkery (CS) is a restaurant in Naples serving Celtic-inspired cuisine. For those that do not know, a shillelagh (shaw-ley la: Shillelagh) is a wooden walking stick with a knobby handle and branch nubs projecting from the shaft of the stick. It is commonly associated with Ireland.
The space presently occupied by CS has been home to many restaurants over the years. Hearing they had opened just a few weeks ago, I was instantly intrigued after looking at their Menu, which is the same for lunch or dinner.
Wanting to order a good cross section of choices from the offerings at CS, I recruited five friends to join me for dinner on a Saturday night.
When I arrived at the restaurant, I was in shock. The surrounding strip mall, which in good times had over ten businesses, including an Albertson’s followed by Publix, was completely empty except for one business. This is an area very much in transition, but more on that later.
The restaurant is split into two areas, a bar and the dining area. The bar takes up approximately 1/3 of the interior of CS. They have a full bar, with some Irish beers on tap (Guinness, Smithwick’s and Harp) in addition to a number of Irish whiskeys (Bushmills, Jameson, Teeling and others).
One of the owners of CS, Ben, in addition to the head chef, David, both have impeccable credentials. Ben was the manager of The Barefoot Beach Club for over 13 years, no small feat for one of the most prestigious and expensive developments in Southwest Florida.
David, after culinary school, spent about three years at Restaurant Daniel in Manhattan, a two Michelin-starred establishment owned by Chef Daniel Boulud. After that, David worked for a year in a kitchen of Alain Ducasse. Chef Ducasse has been awarded 21 Michelin stars over the years at his international consortium of restaurants. Chef David later moved back to Southwest Florida, working as Chef de Cuisine at the club with Ben before both started CS.
Now for the food. The food here is not really Celtic, if it was it would consist of mostly meats, seafood and root vegetables. As mentioned before, the food is Celtic-inspired, with most menu items having an association to Celtic cuisine by the inclusion of an ingredient made in or associated with the areas inhabited by Celtic ancient culture.
The first thing ordered were the crooked Reuben wontons. Wonton wrappers are stuffed with in house prepared smoked corned beef, sauerkraut and swiss cheese. They’re served with Emerald Isle Sauce, a Miracle Whip mayo-based sauce with prepared mustard, vinegar, basil, tarragon and other ingredients.
Corned beef is a salt-cured meat associated with Ireland and was known as a poor man’s bacon. The corned in corned beef comes from the “corns” of salt used to cure it. This was a very interesting and flavorful starter and highly recommended, especially if you are a Reuben fan as I am. It’s interesting, corned beef and cabbage is an American invention, the traditional Irish dish is bacon and cabbage!
I was in the mood for oysters and ordered the North Sea oysters. Oysters from the North Sea were certainly part of Celtic cuisine. The oysters were atop salnicornia or sea beans and topped with a shallot chili dressing, the plate garnished with pickled cucumber and pickled onion. Salnicornia, also known as sea beans, are very salt tolerant succulent plants that grown near beaches and salt marshes. This was a first for me.
The salnicornia were perfect with the oysters giving them almost that brininess that is lost upon frying oysters, which was perfectly balanced with the shallot chili dressing. The flavors in this dish were excellent but I thought the oysters were very small, which I felt really detracted from the dish. I mentioned this to our server, and within seconds Ben, the owner, appeared tableside to apologize and another almost full portion of oysters appeared at the table minutes later. I really thought this gesture was very telling of the integrity of both the owner and chef, which as a diner, will make a lasting impression on me.
One of my dining companions ordered the twisted cobble wedge salad. This was a variant on a traditional wedge salad. Iceberg lettuce was served with pickled onions, cucumbers, hard-boiled egg, grape tomatoes, Irish bacon crumbles and dressed with Belfast Blue cheese dressing. I believe Belfast Blue is one of those raw milk blue cheeses produced in Northern Ireland. What made this dish exceptional were the eight ounces of seafood (poached shrimp, blackened bay scallops, crab and fried calamari) place atop it. This dining companion loved it.
I have a soft spot for short ribs and ordered accordingly. This menu item was excellent, the boneless short ribs served with crisped bone marrow, herbed creme fraiche and braising jus (juice). Baby carrots, haricots verts and ricotta-stuffed gnocchi, pillows of deliciousness, sealed the deal. This was an explosion of textures and rich flavors. Upon a change of our cutlery, our server forgot to give me a knife. No matter, the beef was like buttah and could be eaten with just a fork. Highly recommended.
Other dining companions ordered the highland swine and shillelagh sandwich. The former was wild boar tenderloin, ham, boursin cheese, onion jam, grilled peach and celeriac slaw on a brioche bun with cottage fries. I sampled some of this, and the sandwich was even better than the description of its ingredients.
The latter sandwich, the shillelagh, was practically a club sandwich on depo-testosterone and would please any club sandwich and/or meat lover. Layers of chicken breast, smoked ham and corned beef, applewood smoked bacon and cheddar cheese are served on a brioche bun and served with cottage fries. This was easily enough for two.
My other two dining companions ordered the lamb and the scallop mains, respectively. Each loved their meals. I did not get to try these but they both looked very good from where I sat.
One dining companion finished with the chocolate fondant (lava) cake. It was thoroughly enjoyed.
They also have a happy hour daily from 3-6 PM with dining and food specials. Please contact SG for more information.
These were very good to excellent meals that were served to my dining companions and I on our visit to SG. The hospitality of the owner and culinary skills of the chef are some of the best in the area. There is one caveat, however. Do not be shocked by the desolate strip mall that surrounds SG. You may even wonder why anyone would possibly open a restaurant here.
It’s only a matter of time, and probably not long at that, before The Bayshore Gateway Triangle becomes a very different place. SG is smack dab in the middle of it. I think it will turn out to be a very astute business decision to get in on the ground floor of this seemingly imminent area development.
If you go, I am almost certain you will have a Béile Mór (great meal in Gaelic) as we did. On the whole CS is most recommended.