First Look: Tatoheads Public House

Anthony Dominic, Crave

Hal & Al regulars were hit hard when the South Side vegan-friendly bar changed ownership in July. Since 2009, Hal & Al's was the place where you could order a pint of Southern Tier's Pumking year-round, or a vegan breakfast platter at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday.

New owner Daniel McCarthy, founder of Tatoheads food truck, has no illusions about the shadow the quirky-yet-charming neighborhood spot left behind. Perhaps that's why the menu at his newly minted Tatoheads Public House resembles Hal & Al's 2.0, his spud-leaning food truck and something new altogether-all at the same time. While there are misses, there, too, are intriguing hits that never would have rolled out of Hal & Al's meat-free kitchen.

You'll find fewer but fresher draft brews behind the slightly refurbished bar, as McCarthy found many of Hal & Al's more obscure offerings were overstocked and starting to skunk. Now, Ohio breweries really shine, like Maumee Bay Brewing out of Toledo and Homestead Beer Co. out of Heath. (The latter's nutty Landrush Brown Ale tastes like it was made for washing down spuds.) And Public House still boasts one of the best happy hours in the city: From 4 to 8 p.m. seven days a week, all draft beers are half-priced.

Start your visit by noshing on a plate of Fried Cheese Curds ($8). McCarthy sources fat, salty cheddar curds from Laurel Valley Creamery in Gallipolis, which are generously breaded, fried and served with Tatoheads' sinfully creamy horseradish ranch sauce. Also among the starters, you'll find the food truck's signature choose-your-own spuds and Hal & Al's throwbacks like Sauerkraut Balls ($6) and Chili Cheese Fries ($8) with optional Daiya mock cheese.

Just don't confuse the Tatoheads Pub Salad ($8) for a starter. Kale is seared in a house-made bacon and citrus vinaigrette, tucked into a giant, open-faced baked potato with cherry tomatoes, onions and peppers and topped in a runny sour cream. The hot-meets-cold dish is a mess, but a zesty one at that.

To be clear, there is meat on the menu. Quite a bit of it, actually. And while it may not keep the Hal & Al's regulars around, the no-frills Chorizo Cheeseburger ($11) and a gut-busting Shepherd's Pie ($12) are, so far, the bar's top-sellers, and indications of how the brick-and-mortar can transcend the food truck.

McCarthy knowingly faces serious cosmetic challenges with the underdeveloped space. The kitschy neon-blue exterior and the exposed cement floors inside, once idiosyncrasies of Hal & Al's, now prevent the Public House concept from being fully realized. McCarthy hopes to renovate this fall or no later than next spring, during which the bar may temporarily close. After the renovations, Public House will host a formal grand opening.