Unique gastropub fare shines at O'Toole's of Libertyville
Opened on June 6, Timothy O'Toole's newest location in Libertyville has taken over the old Mickey Finn's spot on Milwaukee Avenue, directly across from Cook Park. This prime locale, along with the outdoor patio that stretches to the sidewalk, makes it perfect for people-watching while enjoying a pint and excellent gastropub fare.
Inside, the feel is distinctly local and not overwhelming. The main dining room is small and separated from the bar. The separation is managed so well that a family in the restaurant with kids wouldn't see or hear rowdiness from the bar. Overall, O'Toole's, which joins outposts in Gurnee and Chicago, is more restaurant than bar, with private party rooms, a stage and rustic local-themed decorations.
Speaking of the bar, the beer menu is extensive with both tap (48 to choose from) and bottles (74 options) focusing on craft brews. The list is augmented by high-end craft cocktails (two on tap), sparkling drinks, bloody marys, and a large selection of red and white wines. The food in the restaurant skews distinctly American, offering what I would call luxury pub food with unique local ingredients. Diners can choose from burgers (Brewben topped with pastrami, black wing wild boar burger) and sandwiches (skirt steak, shrimp bahn mi) to steak (bone-in Delmonico) and seafood (Bell Farms trout, Ahi tuna). The bar offers a smaller menu, called the food truck menu, which offers tacos, burgers, and appetizers like Reuben egg rolls, garlic Parmesan wings and warm pretzels with beer cheese fondue.
I had the Scotch egg and French onion soup for my appetizers. Both were slightly different -- and much better -- than standard interpretations of the food. I expected the Scotch egg (an egg wrapped in sausage and fried) to be hard-boiled completely throughout, but this one was soft-boiled. If that was chef Corey Grupe's intention, I salute him. It was absolutely delicious, and the egg yolk interplayed well with the microgreens and spicy beer mustard on top.
The onion soup looked pretty typical at first, but the surprise under the robust layer of cheese was thicker and heartier-than-usual broth and crispy croutons instead of a big chunk of bread. It was a little cool outside when I stopped in, and the soup thankfully took the chill away. It reminded me of an autumn afternoon.
My lunch was the organic wild boar sloppy joe. The sloppy joe meat (which overflowed from the sandwich and spread out onto the plate in a delicious mess) was lean and surprisingly light. It appeared to be mixed with peppers and onions. The sauce had a barbecue-like twist and wasn't overpowering. Pork rinds and pickle slices top the sandwich, but the rinds seemed to be a little stale and tough instead of crispy and easy to bite.
For dessert, I had the pretzel bread pudding served with vanilla ice cream and Jameson caramel sauce. This is unlike any bread pudding I've ever had -- fluffy but creamy at the same time, sweet with a hint of apricot and a boozy tang from the caramel sauce. If you're looking for traditional bread pudding with loads of cinnamon and nutmeg, this one didn't quite measure up spice-wise. But for a unique take on the dessert, I'd recommend it.
The service throughout my meal was top-notch. Someone was always ready to clear my empty plates or refill my drink, and both my food and bill were quickly received. That, combined with the food I didn't get to try (I was really stuck between what I ordered, the Ahi tuna and the short rib grilled cheese) will definitely make me a repeat customer.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.
O'Toole's Libertyville412 N. Milwaukee Ave., (847) 984-2599, timothyotooles.com/libertyville
Cuisine: High-end American
Setting: Local pub
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday