Here's the back story about the new establishment on East Nationwide Boulevard named Michael O'Toole's: The namesake, an Irish immigrant, opened a tavern in southeast Ohio in the late 1800s to provide coal miners a good meal and a few brews. Now, his great-grandson has opened this restaurant in his honor.
But it's not an Irish pub-the menu is predominately standard American bar food. Everything I sampled was at least good, and, frequently, better than it had to be. In fact, in this period of economic travail, it was nice to see a restaurant open that's offering value for the money and not cutting corners.
Among appetizers, you'll find excellent wings. The spinach and artichoke dip was too liquid, with small flavor; it was the only sub-par dish I found. Louisiana fried oysters, four large ones, tasted fresh and had been cooked to a little crisp, yet remained tender. The accompanying remoulade was good and a bit on the vinegary side; the slightly sweet cocktail sauce also earned points. The Cajun shrimp appetizer was nicely cooked and featured a spicy, mushroomy sauce and a slice of long toast with which to sop it up.
The creamy clam chowder came with largish tender potato lumps. The onion soup was slightly bland, but OK, with chunks of cheese. The house salad with a nice housemade blue cheese dressing held no surprises, but was quite fine. I also liked the candied walnut spinach salad, with a refreshing raspberry vinaigrette.
Entrees maintained the very satisfactory level of the appetizers. I tried both house specials. The slow-roasted prime rib was acceptable, but when the baby back ribs arrived, it was a wow! moment. The long rack of ribs-dry-rubbed, marinated and grilled-were highly tender and luscious, with a fine savory sauce in a little pot.
Also very good was the Chilean sea bass in a vividly buttery lemon sauce on a pile of rice with vegetable chunks. And the seafood platter was among my favorites, with excellent shrimp, nice fish and decent scallops. The mustard remoulade was excellent.
Sandwiches did not disappoint. I enjoyed the chicken salad, the prime rib French dip and the patty melt served on marbled rye toast with really crisp crisps. You might consider swapping your side for the excellent and wide "Colossal" onion rings.
For dessert, I managed to find room for chocolate chip macadamia nut pie. The "pie" was a tasty slab with chocolate chips, and what a good idea to add a shot of milk as an accompaniment.
The service was a cut above. Here are two examples: One server noticed barbecue sauce stains on my dining companion's shirt and, unasked, brought over soda water to help clean the spot. And another time we were consulted as to when to serve the wine.
The room-finished in dark wood and with large windows looking out over Nationwide Boulevard-was pleasing. There's a small patio and a nice bar toward the front that seemed to attract good cocktail-hour business. It was a pleasant surprise to find no frou-frou cocktail menu touting bogus martinis made of vodka and something sweet. Instead, you just order whatever cocktail you want and the bartender knows how to make it.
The wine and beer lists were pretty good. From the latter, I particularly liked Left Hand Brewing Polestar Pilsner-bitter, nutty-sweet and complex in flavor. There was even a footnote on the menu pointing out that you can buy wine to take out or even carry home your unfinished bottle.
89 E. Nationwide Blvd.
Atmosphere: Convivial, publike and somehow comforting.
Recommended dishes: Jumbo chicken wings, Louisiana fried oysters, spicy Cajun shrimp, candied walnut spinach salad, baby back ribs, Chilean sea bass, seafood platter, chocolate chip macadamia pie with a shot of milk.
Price range: Appetizers $7.99-$12.99; soup $2.99-$4.99; salads $6.99-$11.99; entrees $14.99-$24.99; burgers and sandwiches $7.99-$9.29; sides $4.99; dessert $2.99-$5.99.
Hours: Monday through Thursday 11:15 am-10 pm, Friday till 11 pm, Saturday 4 to 11 pm; closed Sunday.
Service: Savvy, smart and attentive.