Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merlins Rest

Visited on Friday, December 19th

Outside Merlin's Rest

Erin's Review
This past month has pretty much been a blur. Due to a number of different factors, we haven't been out to eat to one of the places on our list for almost a month. We did try last Friday - and we now know that Blue Door Pub is not a place to go at 7pm on a Friday night with no reservation with 6 people. Or with 2 people, apparently. We'll have to go back and try that place on weeknight. We headed over to Merlins Rest after trying Blue Door Pub again and easily got a table there.

Inside Merlin's Rest

Merlins Rest is a "British Isles and Irish Pub". I pretty much always like these type of places, and I wasn't disappointed - it was exactly what I was expecting. The surcharges for fries and live music are a little off putting - Ben gets into that more below. I ordered a Strongbow and fish and chips, British style. The Strongbow was the same as it is everywhere - and I think $5.75 is a little steep but nothing outrageous.

Fish & Chips, British Style

The fish and chips came out very quickly (probably less than 10-15 minutes from when we ordered). This wasn't that weird as it doesn't take that long to cook this dish, but Ben's should have taken much longer and came out right away as well. I thought the fish was perfect - greasy and salty, just like I remember eating when I spent a semester in London. The fries were just ok - not sure if they hand cut them here, which I would expect for a $2.75 surcharge when ordering with a sandwich.

Fish & Chips, British Style

I liked the atmosphere at Merlins Rest - it was pleasantly crowded with a little live music going on that wasn't too loud to interfere with conversation. It would be a great place to go with a small group. It was also fairly bright, which is different from most bars and pubs. I would go back if I was having a fish and chips craving. Other than that, probably not - but I can see why fans of scotch would love this place.

Ben's Review
I was sick all last week with a flu-like cold (I got MY flu shot this year, did you??) and Erin was getting sad that we couldn't go out to eat at all. By Friday I felt good enough to venture back out and eat something other than toast with butter, washed down with water. We wanted to try Blue Door Pub after getting shut out last Friday night when our group of six had issues finding a place that could take us without a long wait. I hadn't realized how small BDP was at the time. On this night it was nearing 7 o'clock again so I suggested we have a backup in case BDP was again full up. This turned out to be a good plan because BDP was indeed full again with people already standing, waiting for a table, so we headed to our backup, Merlins Rest on E. Lake St.

If you look at the Google Maps pictures of Merlins Rest, it looks like a place that would sell fireworks off of 94 once you cross into Wisconsin - a huge white sign with huge, simple block letters. I had read on their website that they had an Irishman decorate the interior of the restaurant, but clearly the same TLC hadn't been applied outside. Nevertheless, we headed over knowing what to look for, of course I nearly blew right by the place because since Google came around they have replaced their sign with a more "Irish pub looking" sign that says "Merlins Rest" in the appropriate script.

It wasn't apparent if we should wait to be seated when we got in, but I suppose the absence of a sign means you can seat yourself, so we grabbed a tall table on the left side of the bar. On the right side there were several of those circular booths that I like - it'd be fun to come with a bigger group and grab one of those.

Being that I was just getting over being sick, I knew I wasn't going to have a drink, although the scotch list is tempting. The scotch menu is an entirely separate menu that you can get on request. The list is impressive, and they include the 'wench' ratings for each scotch on the list. I had never heard of a 'wench' rating for a scotch, so I just assumed that was how people rated scotchs. As I'm searching google now, though, I can find NO mention of a 'wench' rating or a 'wench' scale for scotch, so maybe the people at Merlins Rest just like saying 'wench' (who doesn't?).

Scotch Menu

Anyways, I was sticking to water, but I'll be back for the scotch. As for food, I was a little shocked at the $2.75 surcharge to have fries with your burger instead of chips. That seemed a little excessive so I looked for something other than a sandwich to order. I read the description of "Ol' Grandmas Cottage Pie" and I was sold. A layer of ground beef with carrots and parsnips, covered with garlic mashed potatoes, covered with cheese. Yes. That is what I needed getting over a cold.

Cottage Pie

Our food came out much faster than I expected, which makes me think they didn't actually MAKE the food. In spite of this my food was pretty damn good, although instead of carrots and parsnips (which I was actually looking forward to) it was just ground beef with red peppers? Further evidence that it's not cooked on site. The portion was also huge, I just had the rest of my meal for lunch today as it lent itself nicely to reheating.
  • Service: Our server was around to check on us at perfect intervals and was not overbearing.
  • Food: The food was good, but I am suspicious that it is just frozen meals heated up.
  • Drinks: Top notch scotch list, full bar, and typical pub beer list.
  • Ambiance: It was nearly full when we arrived, there were only a couple tables open and the place had a good volume. Some live music started while we were there, but it was almost background noise, not loud at all.
  • Price: The prices were interesting. The base prices seemed reasonable but the $2.75 for fries was a bit much, and there was also a notice that prices "may increase $0.50 to $1.00 during live music." That seemed a little vague and annoying. If I go back for scotch, I probably won't eat.
  • Convenience: Merlins Rest is right on Lake St. with plenty of on-street parking available.
Merlins Rest
3601 East Lake


chris said...

The "wench" rating comes from the Whisky Wench (a.k.a., Fiona). She hosts the single-malt scotch tastings on the first Thursday of every month at Merlins.


ben said...

That makes a lot more sense, thanks chris!

Liz said...

We've been to the BDP twice, once with 3 people, once with 5, and both times it was really crowded. However, we were seated rather quickly, and it's worth the wait!

Ed Kohler said...

Check out their quiz nights. They draw a good crowd and they're not easy.

Bill said...

Please note that NONE of the food is frozen then heated up. It's all made by the kitchen staff. The reason it comes out fast is due to the cooks keeping up with the tickets.

Thanks, Bill

FYI said...

To back Bill up:

In most places, when you order a dish that is more of a slow-cooked type, it'll already be cooked when you get there. I've seen you guys mention your shock at how quickly it took to get your food a few times now (Erin mentioned it about some ribs from somewhere else at one point, for example), but for something that takes hours to make or something that tastes better the longer it rests (like stews and the like), it won't take long to assemble and send out your order, because it really is cooked in advance. That doesn't mean it's any less home made or carefully and thoughtfully done, it just means that you get your food in 5 minutes, versus them starting a fresh batch when you get there so that you can eat 5 hours after you order. In this case, how long would you expect it to take to assemble a meat stew-type bottom, some cooked vegetables, a layer of mashed potatoes, and a layer of melty cheese? Probably 4 minutes max - and 3 of that is just melting the cheese.

If you expect all of your food to be fresh "cooked to order," you'll wind up getting really tough, really flavorless food a lot of the time. Especially with tougher cuts of meat that take a long time to prepare; they take that time much earlier in the day, sometimes a day or two in advance, so that you get the best tasting and most tender food that you can get.

FYI said...

Also, I just wanted to note that I meant ^^^ that in the best way possible, after I posted I realized it looks a little like a rant, which wasn't what I intended. The only thing I don't like about your blog is that it isn't updated more frequently ;)

Erin said...

"FYI" - Thanks for the comment :) You bring up a good point that I hadn't really considered! It just feels weird for some reason when a meal comes out so fast, but now I won't question it as much.

Ben is the reason the blog isn't updated as frequently, so hopefully your comment gets him to write his latest review!

Tracie said...

Thanks for stopping at Merlins! We work very hard to ensure that everyone's experience is a pleasant one at Merlins. I do hope that you will stop by again to try the food, we are continuing to improve our recipes. Please say hi to the owners the next time you are in, we appreciate the nice words. Cheers