The first time I wrote about MacCool’s Public House I said, “Some restaurants, upon opening, come on stronger than George W. Bush’s effort to master English.” An indication of how long I’ve been following this place. I was referring to the decidedly non-bombastic, low key approach of owner Mick Warner and Scott Schlisman when they opened the original MacCool’s in Foothill Village. That was back in 2005.
In more recent years, Warner and Schlisman would go on to open MacCool’s outposts in Layton, Ogden and South Jordan, in addition to the Salt Lake City location. Maybe it was a case of too much, too soon. But by the end of 2019, the only MacCool’s left standing was the Layton location, and it was being given last rights.
Thankfully, for those of us who have loved MacCool’s in good times and bad, a SLC real estate development company called Lotus stepped in and rescued the MaCool’s in Layton by purchasing it. The President of Hospitality for Lotus Company, Doug Hofeling, was quoted in Ogden’s Standard-Examiner last month saying, “I also love MacCool’s – I spent a lot of time there as a younger man. And when this appeared on our horizon, it was clear it would not survive if we didn’t intervene. So we jumped at the chance, we all had such fond memories.” Nice save.
With St. Patrick’s Day in mind, I visited MacCool’s recently to see how the family-friendly Irish pub/restaurant was faring. There have been some cosmetic facelifts as well as an overdue menu renovation. Old favorites like the Pub Burger, Bangers & Mash, and the excellent Reuben sandwich remain. But updated items like a grilled Portobello mushroom sandwich, Meatless Beyond Burger, Spinach & Artichoke Ravioli, and Hummus now grace the once Irish-heavy menu.
We ordered Jalapeño Fries ($6) at MacCool’s, partly out of curiosity. The first attempt was a fail. Our fries arrived limp and cool to the touch. Sad. When we pointed the problem out to our server/bartender (we were eating in the back bar area), she apologized and quickly ordered a replacement. Sadly, the replacement fries were still limp, although hot. As for jalapeño, the fries weren’t jalapeño flavored, as I’d expected. Rather there were thin slices of jalapeño mixed in with the fries.
One survivor of the original MacCool’s – the last man standing – is their outstanding manager, Michael Anderson. He’s been with the outfit for 15 years, and the new owners were wise to keep him on board. He’s a gem of a guy and a top-notch manager. I just wish he’d been there the night we visited, because not everything was up to the standards I’ve always expected at MacCool’s.
Our entrees took forever to arrive, for example, even though business was pretty slow during our visit. Our server finally fessed up: a cook had quit and the kitchen was “in the weeds,” as they say.
One of MacCool’s most popular menu items – and certainly one of my favorites through the years – were the Lamb Riblets. Back in the day, this was a plate stacked high with lamb ribs in a Jenga-type arrangement. They were tender and delicious. I don’t know what happened, but what are now called Lamb Mini Ribs ($15), was an octet of small, char-grilled rib pieces that were tough and chewy – maybe the substitute cook’s fault. They’re still bathed in MacCool’s delectable house-made espresso stout barbecue sauce and topped with buttermilk blue cheese and scallions. But, they aren’t the luscious lamb ribs they used to serve. Bring ‘em back!
MacCool’s has a killer beverage list chock full of Irish Whiskeys, a huge number of beers on tap and in bottles and cans, plus wine, spirits, cocktails, ciders, and even some gluten-free options like Epic Brewing Glutenator. While the wine list isn’t extensive – and it needn’t be in an Irish pub – there are good choices available like Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc.
As I mentioned, MacCool’s has always been a family-friendly place and one of the draws for me has always been the American Shuffleboard table in the back bar area (which is also kid-friendly). And it’s free, as are darts. I’ve lost more games of shuffleboard there than I care to remember.
My wife’s Blarney Salad ($10) was a generous bowl brimming with chopped romaine lettuce, apple chunks, cherry tomatoes, dried cranberries, and crumbled blue cheese drizzled with a sweet-tart strawberry vinaigrette. She upgraded the salad with the addition of grilled chicken ($4). Grilled salmon ($5), portobello mushroom ($3) or steak ($5) are other available salad add-ons.
Despite the loss of a cook for the night, I was very happy with my Fish and Chips ($15). It was three large pieces of ale-battered cod, fried to perfection and served with house-made potato chips, coleslaw, lemon wedges and tartar sauce. I haven’t had better fish and chips in Davis County.
I mentioned the impressive beer selection at MacCool’s. Well, the place will be absolutely mobbed on St. Patrick’s Day. I remember back in the day when the owners used to sneak me in the back door on St. Paddy’s so I wouldn’t have to wait in line out front with all the other revelers.
However, if you want to get a jump on St. Paddy’s Day, on Sunday, March 15, MacCool’s will host a St. Patrick’s Day Beer Pairing Dinner. Guests will join Pat Winslow – brewmaster at the forthcoming Ogden River Brewing – who’ll host an exclusive four-course Irish-themed dinner, complete with craft beer and Irish whiskey pairings in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Tickets are $35 for food only and $50 for the dinner and beer pairings.
In addition to some cosmetic makeovers and a menu facelift, MacCool’s will reopen its outdoor dining area this spring and summer – a space that went into disrepair and was being used as a storage area until the new owners cleaned it up. LIke many fans of MacCool’s, I’m keeping an eye out and looking forward to seeing what the future of MacCool’s looks like. And, I’m thrilled that Lotus rescued one of the few non-franchise, non-chain establishments in Layton and gave it new life.
Culinary quote of the week:
“A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe.” — Thomas Keller
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.