And you can’t get any more Irish in Richmond than O’Toole’s Restaurant and Pub on Forest Hill Avenue in South Side. A landmark for more than 40 years, it’s the kind of homey neighborhood place where you can nosh on a sampler platter ($7.29) of chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks and some of the best potato skins I’ve had. You can also order a 12-ounce bourbon-glazed New York strip complete with your choice of sides and house salad ($14.95).
The menu mostly represents American-style food with plenty of entrée salads. A chicken-tender salad features deep-fried, lightly breaded chicken strips tossed with iceberg lettuce, olives and boiled eggs ($6.95). There’s a large assortment of sandwiches, including 100 percent ground chuck-burgers ($5.25), kosher sandwiches (think knockwurst and corned beef), hoagies (steak and cheese and meatball) and a few open-face sandwiches doused in gravy ($5.95).
There are stir-fries, pastas and pizza, including an excellent and fully loaded Greek pizza overflowing with spinach, tomatoes, black olives, feta and piquant pepperoncinis (small $6.95). As if this weren’t enough, nightly dinner specials include a diner-style meatloaf ($7.95). Served with starchy brown gravy, it was overcooked and lackluster. A better option would be the tender and delicious 14-ounce prime rib ($14.95) Dashed with salt and pepper and resting in its own pan juices, it was as a good steak should be.
And what Irish pub would be complete without a platter of fish and chips ($11.95)? As the only “typical” bit of pub grub on the menu, it’s a winner. A large — hanging-over-the-sides-of-the-plate-large — beer-battered cod filet was deep fried to perfection and served with atypical fries, thick hand-cut potato chips. The fish was as good (or better) than any I’ve had in pubs in the U.K., and I highly recommend sprinkling your chips with a little malt vinegar for the true pub experience.
And cod isn’t the only seafood on the menu. Flounder stuffed with crabmeat ($12.95), tuna steak ($11.95) and salmon with béarnaise ($11.95) are a few options. Two house-made crab cakes ($14.95) were prepared to order, but were deep fried a bit too long and came across as bitter and oily.
O’Toole’s also offers an array of desserts including a huge, decadent brownie sundae ($3.95) topped with vanilla ice cream and canned cream. The pecan pie ($3.25) is a good choice served warm with a dollop of melting ice cream.
Although there may be a few hits and misses at O’Toole’s, the place itself overshadows the food. If you’ve got more than a touch of the green in you, find your family’s crest from the extensive display lining the walls, or sing a few tunes by the old piano. It’s a down-to-earth good time, and just the way original owner, Jim O’Toole, designed it to be.
(Look for the framed photo of O’Toole as a young man sitting next to a dancing Cesar Romero — better known as the Joker from the original “Batman” television show — during World War II.)
When most restaurants don’t make it past the two-year mark, going on steady for 40 speaks volumes. There’s something to be said about the luck of the Irish. Maybe it’s that there’s more than luck going on. SO’Toole’s Restaurant and Pub ($)4800 Forest Hill Ave.
Lunch and dinner: Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. Brunch: Sunday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Open until 12 p.m.
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