When McNellie’s Public House opened a little more than 14 years ago, I was floored (not literally) by the beer selection. With 60 on tap and more than 200 overall, I termed it “a beauty pageant of beers from around the world.”
Those still are impressive numbers, though having a large selection of good beers is hardly out of the ordinary these days.
Re-reading my review, I wasn’t as thrilled with the food, and the menu remained much the same for a long, long time. Until now.
“It wasn’t totally stagnant over the years, but most of it was made when downtown was a baby,” said Trevor Tack, corporate executive chef for the McNellie’s Group. “It was way overdue to bring up to date.
“Still, there were things on the menu beloved by so many people, it took time to determine how to move forward.”
Variations of old favorites remain, such as the Reuben sandwich, cottage pie, fish and chips, steak and fries, grilled salmon, McNellie’s charburger, artichoke dip and Cobb salad, but much of the remainder of the menu is not recognizable.
Among the new items are pulled pork nachos, Brooklyn burger, lobster roll, fish sandwich, garlic Parmesan fries, Peking duck wings, steakhouse burger, American Wagyu burger, Memphis 2.0 burger and the Impossible veggie burger.
“Some things we’ve started doing are using locally made burger buns, regional beef, cheese from Lomah Dairy and sustainable, farm-raised cod and salmon,” Tack said. “We trimmed the fat from the menu — things that weren’t selling — and changed the plating to modernize our presentations.”
On a recent visit, we warmed up with an order of fried cheese curds ($7), not on the early menus but not new, either. They were lightly battered and filled with great-tasting Lomah Dairy cheese. They came with a ranch dipping sauce.
Then we hit some of the new items, including steak salad ($15), Brooklyn burger ($12), lobster roll ($19), Peking duck wings ($12) and the Impossible burger ($13).
The Brooklyn burger included a half-pound patty with tuxedo sauce, grilled onions, Lomah cheddar and arugula on a brioche bun. The burger got most of its flavor from the tuxedo sauce, which tasted something like a spicy Thousand Island.
The roll had a good amount of lobster and an overall pleasing flavor, if a bit fishy, with a touch of lemon aioli and a sprinkling of parsley.
The highlight of the steak salad was the slices of tenderloin, cooked a perfect medium-rare. They sat over a mix of bibb lettuce, shaved red onions and tomatoes with Gorgonzola vinaigrette.
I tasted the Peking duck wings and the Impossible burger during our photo shoot and normally would not include them in the review, but they were the most interesting of the new dishes I tried.
The duck wing appetizer included Maple Leaf Farms fried duck wings covered with a sweet-and-spicy sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds and chopped cilantro. They had a super flavor and just a little kick.
The Impossible veggie burger looked like ground beef and tasted as close to ground beef as anything I’ve tried in the past.
“It’s totally plant-based, and it blew me away when I found it,” Tack said.
McNellie’s still has its popular $4 burger nights on Wednesdays and a dedicated brunch menu, featuring mostly breakfast-style dishes, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
It also still has a stunning beer list with brews from around the world and a small but serviceable wine selection.
McNellie’s has three dining areas with a bit of an English pub feel. The main room has personalized mugs, bicycles, a huge American flag and vintage photos, and a separate dining area good for groups has its own bar and early American- and British-themed prints. A limited menu is available in the smoking lounge upstairs, which also has a bar.
Tack said owner Elliot Nelson and McNellie’s Pub executive chef Jason Ashing had a big hand in the new menu development.
“This place is Elliot’s baby, and he really had his hand on this one,” Tack said. “And chef Jason did a great job with the menu.
“Elliot didn’t want people to come in and say, ‘What happened to my pub?’ We want the pub to be like a second home, and we wanted the new menu to fit in with our crowd. I think it’s doing really well so far.”