There's a four-leaf clover in McAvoy's logo and a bit of Irish sprinkled on the menu, but McAvoy's doesn't look like an Irish pub.
Located in Putty Hill Shopping Center, McAvoy's is just a very big square space. Think of it as a honky-tonk Elk's Lodge. On the left side is the big bar, and on the right there's a grouping of about a dozen dining tables, some of them on a platform, and a few pool tables farther back. All of these areas run into each other without much separation. There is a smaller, quieter dining room beyond the bar, but you might miss it if you didn't go look for it. We did.
But the main dining area isn't too raucous, really. In fact, it's a family-friendly option, especially in the early evening, when the music is kept to a comfortable level. The smoking ban has changed everything. There's a children's menu and kids' cups.
The very best thing about McAvoy's, the former Putty Hill Station, is how successfully its new owners - Diane and Bill Schmittinger and Maria and Adam Bloom - have developed this unassuming spot into a vital and accommodating gathering spot for the Parkville community. (Take note: the discount liquor store run by McAvoy's is open seven days a week.) The bar has recently added poker tournaments to its schedule of activities, which already includes live music on weekends and Wednesday-night karaoke.
Equally attractive are the daily dining specials that can make an already moderately priced dining option a downright bargain. Tuesday nights are 25-cent wing night, Wednesdays are $5.95 all-you-can-eat spaghetti night and $7.99 for a pound of shrimp, and Thursdays are for $13.95 New-York strip steak. When we visited on Monday's $1.50 crab night, McAvoy's had a crowd that was encouragingly diverse in every way, and this is always a good sign that customers like the way they're being treated.
Crab night comes with its own rules, most of which customers learn along the way. There's a minimum order of six crabs (granted, only a restaurant reviewer would want to order only two or three, just to try them) and whatever you don't finish you can't take home with you. Bummer. There's also a two-drink minimum at crab-eating tables, and our gratuity was added automatically. I understand the purpose of all of these rules, but McAvoy's should be more upfront about them. No one likes surprises.
Not unexpectedly, the crabs themselves were smallish, but they were tasty and meaty, coated with a standard pepper and celery salt blend. At $1.50 a piece, it'd be fun to make a Monday night of them with a few friends, some cold beer, and a few fried or cheesy sides, maybe some steamed shrimp or Irish mussels, the house specialty. The black & tan onion rings ($4.50) are a nice choice with their pretty striped breading, but we were partial to the plate of fried pickle ($5.95), which came with a nice and cool chipotle dipping sauce.
McAvoy's carries a decent selection of sandwiches, Angus beef burgers and bigger entrees, the most expensive of which are a $16.95 New York strip and a $15.95 seafood pasta salad. A number of items are Irish pub staples, things like bangers and mash and shepherd's pie. Fish and chips ($6.95), made with beer-battered cod, look and taste homemade, with evidence of real whole fish inside the batter, and the fries are the good, well-done kind. But the Reuben ($7.50) is gnarly, made with that weird slimy kind of corned beef and not enough cheese to disguise it.
A Caesar salad ($6.95) and a feta-happy Greek salad ($7.95) made up for in size what they might have been missing in finesse. Our nice waitress was disappointed, and so were we, that the kitchen was out of McAvoy's special Irish Bananas dessert ($5.95), whiskey-sauteed bananas over vanilla ice cream. We'll just have to go back for it.
McAvoy's has a great parking lot. It's really the lot for the Putty Hill Shopping Center, but, by dinner time, most of the other businesses have closed, and the lot takes on some American Graffiti charm. It's a relatively quiet stretch of Parkville up here - the high school, with its popular walking track, is just up the street - and McAvoy's, inside and out, feels more like a small-town than a big-city suburb. We like that feeling.
Where: 2531 Putty Hill Ave
Open: 11 a.m.-2 a.m daily (kitchen closes at 11 pm)
Credit cards: All major
Prices: Entrees $6.95 -$16.95; sides/appetizers $2.50-$9.95
Food: ** (2 stars)
Service: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)
Atmosphere: *** (3 stars)
[Outstanding: **** Good:*** Fair or uneven: ** Poor *]