Much more than an Irish pub, Middleton's on Main satisfies tastes that range from Guinness to gourmet.
Calling itself a "gastro pub," a term that means great food and drink served in an unpretentious atmosphere, Middleton's, which has been open since June, is the latest eatery to occupy this historic Wauconda inn.
Middleton's On Main110 S. Main St., Wauconda, (847) 526-6433, middletonsonmain.com
Setting: Vintage inn
Entrees: $10.95 to $27.95
Hours: Kitchen open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and the bar 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday; kitchen open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and bar 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Today's owners are Jeff Middleton, who has a construction background, Joe Kafka and Aaron Aggarwal. The latter two partners also own Bulldogs Grill down the street and in Grayslake.
Built as a hotel in 1847, the long-standing building at various times served as a stagecoach stop, tavern, restaurant, theater and, reportedly, a brothel. It has retained its look over the years, with hardwood floors and dark painted woodwork. Vintage light fixtures, framed theater playbills and old local photographs lend further historic charm.
Today, the first floor of Middleton's is divided into a dining room and a completely separate tavern, with a similar layout on the second floor, which also has a balcony. The same menu is served everywhere in both the dining room and the tavern, accompanied by more than 100 craft beers, a good wine list and a full bar menu with emphasis on single-malt scotches and Irish whiskey.
While Middleton's retains much of the building's aged charm, there is nothing old-fashioned about the menu. Some of the dishes are Irish, American and Mexican classics, and those we sampled live up to today's most demanding palates.
Appetizers range from the California-esque smoked salmon, goat cheese and avocado quesadillas with mango masala salsa to a trendy pork belly bruschetta with apple slaw, bacon compote and smoky aioli. Selections like these are what makes a gastro pub stand out from your ordinary pub.
We opted to start with the Maine Day Boat Scallops on roasted garlic mashed potatoes with gremolata and a drizzle of pretty green basil oil. Three of these large scallops artfully arranged on an oblong rectangular serving dish were impeccably fresh and perfectly complemented by their accompaniments.
We were tempted to try one of the hearty soups -- Irish onion with garlic croutons and Gruyere cheese or Dublin beer cheese with smoked sausage, potatoes, onions and cheese simmered in a Guinness and garlic stock. But we wisely decided to save our appetites for entrees and dessert.
In true Irish fashion, Guinness shows up again in the lamb stew, combined with potatoes, carrots and gravy in a crusty bread bowl. A bargain at $12.95, the stew was delicious and comforting, especially suited to this time of year. The stew could have used more chunks of lamb, but otherwise it's an excellent dish.
For a second comfort food entree, we chose Dublin Bac and Cheese, which also nicely filled us up. Not your everyday pasta dish, this version was dressed up with crumbled bacon, Gruyere, cheddar and Maytag bleu cheese and some bits of ham. It was a truly winning combination.
Other entrees range from hand-cut Certified Black Angus steaks to Cajun shrimp couscous. In addition, daily specials run the gamut from shepherd's pie on Sundays to ever-changing tapas on Tuesdays to fresh ocean perch fish fries on Fridays.
A good selection of salads, burgers and sandwiches also is available. One signature salad, the Drunken Goat, contains goat cheese flavored with Guinness, mixed baby greens, Granny Smith apples, almonds, berries and red onion tossed in a poppy seed dressing.
All good meals should end with a good dessert, and in this case the Chocolate Blackout Cake fit the bill. Enough for several diners to share, this huge portion is glazed with chocolate ganache, drizzled with Chambord and served over a fresh berry coulis. Eaten in small portions, this cake is a winner indeed.
In fact, the entire Middleton's concept is a winner for Wauconda and for diners from all over willing to make the trek. It establishes a new and noteworthy identity in this historic setting.