The sign above the door says McNellie’s Public House, and that’s a lot how the interior sounds once you step over the threshold. Of course, a popular restaurant will likely present a little noise from the dining public on a Saturday evening.
Depending on the downtown Tulsa event schedule, dinner at McNellie’s (409 E. First St.)can be a comfortable and inviting American-version of an Irish pub, or a hectic and drama-inspiring event that may require a follow-up pint elsewhere. On our most-recent previous visit, a free music event mixed with the hot weather brought the steaming clientele streaming in, and it was quickly apparent that the restaurant was understaffed.
That night, despite a surly hostess who appeared aggrieved at being required to wipe down tables, the food and drink – and the evening – was a success, largely due to a frazzled waitress whose frequent apologies were clearly sincere.
Saturday night’s visit came amidst a mid-summer thunderstorm that broke just long enough to allow us to scamper from the parking lot to the front door. There was no waiting line, but the interior was filled, and the table for our anticipated evening out turned into the equivalent of eating on the Broken Arrow Expressway.
In truth, we eventually became comfortable sitting at a four-top beside the front door, but I’ve never had a burger more admired by passers-by. Between the traffic headed to the attached bar area to the east and the in-and-out overflow in the would-be foyer, we were on an island of burger-and-brew-heaven surrounded by a white-river-rapids rush of hungry table-seekers.
They say a pint of Guinness is best served at room temperature, but most establishments forego that Irish tradition, much in the way that Irish stew in the US rarely contains lamb as it does in the home country. McNellie’s offers it up somewhere in between ice-cold and tepid, chilled enough to refresh on a hot Tulsa day, but nothing like the feel-it-frosty-all-the-way-down temperature that some restaurants manage. The kegs likely share a common refrigerated room, and the Dos Equis on tap was also only moderately cold. In comparison, On the Border in Tulsa offers that same brand in a near-frozen state that will take your breath away, as will the Amber Bock on tap at Santa Fe in Broken Arrow.
Since the thunderstorm had dropped the mercury well into the comfortable range, the beer temperature was less of an issue.
The McNellie’s charburger is big and basic, offered as cooked to order, with a thick beef patty complete with grill lines and a wonderful aroma. You’ll pay extra for cheese and bacon, and our penchant for jalapenos required a request for special treatment, which the waitress accepted without pause. Instead of peppers from a vinegar-filled jar, McNellie’s uses fresh jalapenos, which may offer organic heat, but have the flavor of green bell peppers. They are, however, a delicious addition to a burger when grilled.
One of the two burgers was perfect, which was puzzling, given that they were ordered as identical. Our server offered to have the undercooked one returned to the grill, but her question came so much later that we opted to take it home in a box to continue its cooking there. No apologies or alternatives were offered, despite the obviously uneaten burger.
It may seem petty, bringing up that last detail, but – when combined with a 20% gratuity – the check for the burgers and a couple of beers each for a party of two totaled $50. That may not amount to a fine dining tab, but it is solidly in the range of it-better-be-worth-the-money.
Personally, I expect to continue frequenting McNellie’s Public House, but Saturday’s outing only proves that continued regular patronage of any business will eventually produce a less-than-stellar experience.