MacCool's Public House
1400 S. Foothill Drive, Salt Lake City ; 801-582-3111
The food appeals at this "gastropub," which is a restaurant first and public house second. Location also in Layton.
Cuisine: Pub Grub, Irish
Hours: M-S, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Su, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Liquor: Full Service
Corkage: $ 7.50
Reservations: For large parties only
Recommended Dishes: Guinness stew, meat loaf, Pub burger, lamb ribs, orange chicken.
January 13, 2010
MacCool's deftly approximates quality of a gastropub
By Vanessa Chang
The first time I stepped into a MacCool's, I barely managed to get both feet in the door. Part of our St. Patrick's Day bar-hopping theme included an initial stop at the then new-ish restaurant for a fortifying bite to eat.
"First things first," my social planner for the evening told me on the ride there. "Lamb ribs. Lots and lots of lamb ribs. Then a Publican burger. After that, we go where the pints take us."
Many others had the same idea that night. And despite the cramped quarters and the stretched service staff, it was fun in every sense of the word.
As someone who has grown up without the idea of "public house," or a "pub," MacCool's is the closest thing. It's a place where the food is more consistent than not and where you can always get a drink. Depending on your mood, you can sit next to the fire, within the walled embrace of a booth or at the bar, where you can root for your favorite football team or challenge complete strangers to a round of shuffle board.
Since that first visit, I've returned to MacCool's on many occasions: for a midday dinner, a late-night snack and drink, a friendly lunch and even for a post-wake toast to the beloved deceased. The versatility is appealing. And so is the food.
Those lamb ribs ($8.99, $12.99) were a revelation. Not too fatty, slathered with a slightly piquant, sweet and tangy barbecue sauce and drizzled with a blue cheese sauce. You eat them with your fingers. You will most likely get messy. Perfect with a pint of anything, not just Guinness or Murphy's. Lamb is one of those polarizing meats; people either love it or hate it. This is the diplomat that will bridge the great divide. A half order never seems like enough to share. A full order with a dozen sticky ribs stacked high is always appropriate, and for me, serves as a proper meal.
The Publican burger ($7.99), is appealing in its straightforward simplicity. Good beef flavor courtesy of 1/2 pound's worth of beef, topped with nothing but tomato and lettuce. The pillowy potato bun also cradles the more stylish burgers that use bison with pico de gallo ($10.99) and an equally good lamb burger with olive tapenade ($9.50).
Anyone who has paid an iota of attention to Gordon Ramsay or other British TV personalities and/or chefs has heard of a "gastropub." Essentially, they have taken supremely crappy grub and replaced it with well-executed fare ranging from the homey to the haughty. MacCool's is probably the closest thing Utah has to it. Not just because the citrus chicken ($13.50) is tender, moist and some of the best roast chicken in town. Rather, the focus is on the food.
Though it's called a public house, let's be clear that MacCool's is first and foremost a restaurant and a reliable one at that. The kitchen prepares many components from scratch, evident in tender Prince Edward Island mussels simmered in a refreshingly mild shallot tomato broth ($8.99) or fish entrees like the red trout with grilled potatoes ($14.50).
Sauces, in fact, are one of its strengths. The house barbecue sauce graces thick slabs of flavorful meatloaf, a nice top note to the hefty meat. Even the crunchy addictive sweet potato fries ($4.99) get in on the act with a pairing of curry dipping sauce.
Then, of course, there's traditional Irish fare. Here, it's about a simmering, earth brown Guinness stew ($12.50) served in deep white bowls. Flaky hot fish and chips with seasoned steak fries ($12.99) arrive together in a bistro-style cone. Traditional Irish pancakes, called boxty's ($5.99 to $8.99), are particularly good with trout, green onion, dill and yogurt and are a nice light meal. Keep in mind that anyone expecting a pyrotechnic flavor experience like that of Thai cuisine will be unimpressed. This is the type of food that provides the warm heft needed during these bone chilling days. Call it sweater food because the eater will most likely be wearing a sweater when she's craving it, and once consumed it has this warming, cozy effect.
Still, a bit more depth would have suited the chicken pot pie ($11.99), which wows everyone in the dining room with a huge, golden toupee of puff pastry. It's a fun, if cumbersome, process to smash in the edible covering with a spoon. The corned beef au gratin pie ($10.99) was wonderfully rich and satisfying, but could have benefitted from more horseradish to help stave off any cloying aftertaste. The corned beef and cabbage ($12.50) are more flavorful than you think. The meat is just as flavorsome in the Irish reuben ($10.99) where caramelized onions replace sauerkraut between caraway spiked rye slices. Although the sandwich could have used thinner cuts of meat, suitable for sandwich style eating. Which is to say, diners like to take a bite without dragging out a 4-inch chunk of corned beef with the bread and fixings.
The original Foothill village location (ground floor on the southern end) has its stream of loyalists. MacCool's also has expanded to Layton and South Jordan. Each of these satellites resembles one another in its color scheme, solid wood furniture, menu and décor. I have to hand it to the owners for not taking the décor too far into the land of cliché and caricature.
South Jordan was a little too quiet for my liking. I'm hoping local residents pick up on the casual vibe and overall quality of food, not to mention some sweet deals MacCool's has for all its locations. One night my party of five got 50 percent off our entrées. (You'll need to sign up for the e-mail list to get the coupon).
Also, kids can eat free Sundays and Mondays when an accompanying adult purchases a dinner of $8.99 or more.
MacCool's is an obvious choice for the St. Patty's Day celebration. But it's a worthy choice for any day eating.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.
April 1, 2005
By Nancy Hobbs
The lower level of an outdoor mall may not be the most quaint neighborhood for an Irish pub, but we all know that outward appearances are never a complete picture. Step inside MacCool's Public House and the music, adornments and friendly service -- not to mention lots of food and beer -- will move you a little closer, at least in spirit, to the Emerald Isle. The pub and eatery, whose emphasis on food makes it welcome to patrons of all ages and persuasions, opened the day after Christmas. Owners Michael Warner and Scott Schliffman have maintained an ambitious schedule ever since, with doors opening at 11 a.m. daily and not closing until a full 12 hours later.
The fare is what one might expect of a pub, with generous deli sandwiches and burgers with fries. It distinguishes itself, however, with a handful of traditional Irish selections, from corned beef and cabbage to classic shepherd's pie.
MacCool's also offers several unique appetizers, some of which we tried on recent visits with mixed results, and others that I'd like to try again. The pierogies, for example, little pasta-like dumplings filled with mashed potatoes, came in an order of three that vanished in no time.
The lamb quesadilla wasn't as agreeable. I am generally fond of lamb, with two exceptions: cold or tepid lamb and lamb fat. My first bite into a quesadilla triangle encountered a mouthful of both.
I sought refuge in a bowl of split-pea and ham soup, which, being a good, strong counterforce to the gamy lamb, was especially welcome. The soup was blended just enough to thicken it, but left a little of the peas' texture, rather than a creamy puree. The bites of smoky ham, which give the soup much of its flavor, were an abundant treat. Split-pea soup and potato-leek soup are regular items on the MacCool menu; a soup-of-the-day is also offered (salmon chowder on both occasions I visited), any of which would be welcome on the blustery days we've had of late.
I revisited the quesadilla, inspecting the strips of lamb a little closer, and though it was more edible, the pungent meat still wasn't very hot, and I forfeited the remainder.
My dining companion made a better choice in ordering the shepherd's pie and found it as enjoyable as the classic version she had savored in Scotland several years ago. The pieces of roast beef were moist and succulent, and were mixed with corn and carrots beneath a layer of hot, creamy mashed potatoes, baked and broiled to give the top a golden, crisp finish.
I also relished the chicken pot pie on a previous visit, with big, tender chunks of chicken that tasted freshly cooked, rather than processed and frozen, in a delicious gravy also laden with carrots, potatoes and beans. The chicken pot pie is a head-turner, as the top "crust" is an impressive, oversized puff-pastry pillow.
The Guinness stew also is terrific, with a rich base of stout and beef, swimming with meat and vegetables.
And of course, you wouldn't have much of an Irish pub without fish and chips. At MacCool's, the fish is perfect, with big chunks of tender halibut encased in a crisp, golden beer-batter crust. The homemade chips also are crisp and addictive.
The restaurant has both a regular dining area and a "pub shop," which is separated from the main area with a partial wall and the stately, dark wood bar from which the voluminous pints and 22-ounce "jars" of draft brew are drawn. Besides being close to the bar, the pub shop also has a couple of televisions, usually set on the sports stations, and high-seated bar stools in addition to several regular tables lining the walls.