Some restaurants, upon opening, come on stronger than George W. Bush’s effort to master English. They hire fancy PR firms or marketing specialists and pummel food writers with press releases till they plead for mercy.
MacCool’s isn’t one of those. It was eight months after opening before MacCool’s even appeared on my restaurant radar. But a savvy food and wine gal named Vicky turned me on to MacCool’s, and I think it’s going to be a long time before I get turned off. Look, I know I’m supposed to tease, but let’s just call a four-leaf clover a four-leaf clover: I love this place.
One reason that MacCool’s'named for the mythical Irish character Finn MacCool'hadn’t quite registered with me is that I thought it was a private club. It’s actually an Irish pub-restaurant'what in Ireland is called a “public houseâ€'where you can dine and drink, and the entire family is invited.
That’s something I don’t want to give short shrift: At MacCool’s, you see families ensconced in what is, ostensibly, an Irish pub. You see, in old Ireland there was the Church and then there was the Public House. The Public House served pints of stout and Irish whisky, along with food, and that’s where folks went after church. It’s where neighbors came together to celebrate their sameness, not their differences.
MacCool’s Public House is one of those places. It’s the creation of Mic Warner'formerly of Third & Main'and his partner Scott Schlisman, who grew up in the Philadelphia restaurant biz. You know how you can rarely find the owners in the restaurants you frequent? Well, I’ve never been to MacCool’s when Mic and Scott weren’t both patrolling the dining rooms and the kitchen. And I think the buck stops with them: The duo creates a friendly, inviting, comforting environment that I can only describe as “nice.” When I look back on all the restaurants I’ve visited, “nice” applies only to a handful.
The restaurant itself is unique. You might enjoy a massive chicken pot pie ($10.99) with a square of puff pastry about the size of a throw pillow in the Irish country-cottage section of the restaurant. Or try the rich, rib-sticking buffalo shepherd’s pie (made with bison, venison and sausage) in the Gaelic room, where you’ll disappear behind 7-foot-high beechwood chairs, handmade and shipped over from Ireland. On one of the faux Irish stone beechwood walls is written “CÃ©ad mÃle faÃlte,” which in Gaelic means “100,000 welcomes.” And that echoes the MacCool’s slogan which is, “There are no strangers here â€¦ only friends who have not met.â€
And then there are the restrooms, which also deserve comment. The ceramic/tile/stone/cement washbasins at MacCool’s make scrubbing up â€¦ scrubilicious! From the Victorian dining area and the busy bar to the see-through kitchen in the back, MacCool’s is tied together by the incredible painting and design work of Sarah Peterson Berkowitz.
The food? I guess I’d call it Irish-eclectic. Mic and Scott think of it as Irish home cooking with “American know-how.” So you’ll find fresh roast beef and corned-beef sandwiches ($8.50) served on squares of soft, toasted ciabbata bread with sides of potato and sweet potato fries. And I have to say that MacCool’s is just about the only place to get sweet-potato fries right. A plate of barbecued lamb ribs ($9.50) will blow your mind! They’re slow roasted (which eliminates most of the fat), then grilled and topped with Scott’s homemade spicy barbecue sauce and bleu-cheese dressing, cut just a tad with buttermilk to take the sharp edge off the bleu cheese. I fibbed a bit when Mic asked me, “Do you like lamb?” Well, thanks to those ribs, I do now. I could eat a couple dozen.
The half-pound “Publican Burger” ($6.99) would be Utah’s best burger if it weren’t served on a bed of lettuce. Plopping that amazing half-pound Angus beef burger on top of lettuce just doesn’t make any sense, although it’s artistically interesting. The lettuce collects the juices from the burger and winds up a soggy, icky mess. My advice: Boys, don’t get too fancy. There’s a reason most burgers are topped with lettuce, onions and tomato.
There are plenty of other reasons to eat at MacCool’s, like the amazing potato-filled pierogies ($7.99), about half the size of those old 45 rpm records some of us remember. And the astonishing, swell homemade gravlox served with a warm potato pancake ($8.99) and sour cream.
But as good as the food and drink is at MacCool’s, there is also a friendly, welcoming vibe that stands aside from the terrific menu and ambience. It has everything to do with smiling servers and owners like Emily, John, Amy, Mic and Scott. Remember Cheers, where “everybody knows your nameâ€? That’s MacCool’s. It’s one of the few places in town where a family might congregate for lunch to celebrate a 6-year-old’s birthday, and her grandparents will return a day later for corned beef and cabbage, a Jameson Whiskey, a game of darts and a smooch or two.
Even if the food and drink weren’t so good, I’d be drawn to MacCool’s for the shuffleboard table alone. It’s the only one in Utah I know of. And despite my rookie girlfriend’s 6-1 lead, a pint of Guinness stout or Tetley’s ale at the table is about as good as it gets. If that’s not enough, MacCool’s launches its Thursday night series of literary readings on Oct. 20, accompanied by live Irish music. If you read this in time, get your buns over there. There are new friends awaiting your arrival.