Restaurant Review: Michael O'Toole's

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

See, this comfy Arena District establishment is partly an homage to the 1800s tavern founded by its namesake - the great grandfather of an owner. That's why written on the new restaurant's stout brick building is "Established 1898."

But the food is pure 21st-century American pub grub, only done with some aplomb, as befits the Hyde Park alum pedigree of both owners. So the reined-in menu features the expected crowd-pleasing fare along with spotlighted steaks and some nicely fried seafood.

A great launch to your meal would be O'Toole's excellent Louisiana Fried Oysters ($10). Under a crackly golden brown, loose batter were super juicy, perfectly (i.e. barely) cooked oysters. The only way to achieve this is with high-heat flash frying, and O'Toole's got that exactly right. The dipping sides - cocktail and remoulade sauces - were fine, but why mess with near perfection?

Though highlighted on the menu, the Rib Sampler appetizer was disappointing. While I liked the side of fresh and light, celery-seeded slaw, for the price ($9), I expected more than three skimpy bones.

Fortunately, another meaty menu beacon made good on its shining promise. The Slow-Roasted Prime Rib (12 ounces for $23) was a hulking slab of well-marbled prime beefy love served with au jus and a mound of dense, garlicky and dairy-rich smashed potatoes. The meat, which arrived like I like it (a bloody medium rare), sported a rim tasting of corning spices.

The Stuffed Chicken Breast ($16), a riff on chicken cordon-bleu, showed off cheffy skills. Two breast and wing quarters arrived with "frenched" drum bones and perfectly browned skin. That crispy skin effectively pointed up the creamy, molten gorgonzola and salty prosciutto hidden in the center of the tender chicken. While I wasn't wild about the wild rice side (which would've benefited from chicken stock), the roasted green beans were nice.

During a busy lunch on O'Toole's patio, I also sampled a well-proportioned, above-average Stacked High Classic Reuben ($10). It was sided with "boardwalk fries" - battered and aggressively seasoned fatboy wedges - that were hard to stop gobbling.

The serviceable Cobb Salad ($11) was distinguished by hard-cooked egg worked into the fresh hearts of romaine lettuce and diced real chicken. Otherwise, there were slices of deli ham and turkey, red onion and a couple of chunks of avocado.

I could taste the whiskey in my Bourbon Pecan Pie - as well as a load of butter. The homey and gooey slice was served with Velvet vanilla ice cream and Grand Marnier whipped cream.

Michael O'Toole's might not be a "destination" restaurant, but with its expansive beer list and decent food, it presents a strong option for any Arena District stopover.

Michael O'Toole's

89 E. Nationwide Blvd., Arena District


Price: $$ ($10-$20 per person)

Cuisine: Contemporary American

Patio: Yes

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Saturday