Staying out in the northwest Chicago suburb of Mount Prospect recently, I ended up at the new-ish Hampton Inn in the Randhurst Village, a redeveloped living, shopping and entertainment center that was once home to the largest indoor mall in the Chicago area. There are a handful of restaurants within the complex and one that is right down the street from the Hampton Inn is a place called BlackFinn American Grille. It was a three minute walk from the front door of the hotel to BlackFinn.
The Mount Prospect BlackFinn location opened in August of 2012, one of a handful of franchise properties overseen by BlackFinn LLC based out of Charlotte, NC. BlackFinn started out as an Irish saloon in Charlotte in 1994 and eventually evolved into a contemporary American-style grill. There are BlackFinn American Grille locations in Houston, suburban St. Louis, and in Jacksonville, FL. There are BlackFinn Ameripub restaurants in downtown Chicago, suburban Washington, D.C. and in Austin, TX. Even though they are siblings to the BlackFinn American Grilles, they have a different menu and business concept.
(As an aside - franchise owners in the Dallas area and in the Chicago suburb of Naperville either closed or sold their BlackFinn locations earlier this year after problems arose of unpaid vendors and employees (Dallas) and a suspension of the liquor license due to a series of late night problems (Naperville).)
Kevin Finegold is the managing partner for the Mount Prospect BlackFinn. Finegold has a long history in the food service world. He started out working for McCormick and Schmick's seafood restaurant in Kansas City before moving to Chicago. Finegold eventually became the Midwestern regional manager for McCormick and Schmick's before he became the Executive General Manager for the McCormick and Schmick's location in Skokie, IL. He left McCormick and Schmick's in April of 2011 to assist in the June 2011 opening of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville restaurant on Navy Pier. In November of 2011, Finegold jumped at the chance to become the managing partner of the planned BlackFinn American Grille that was to open the next year in Mount Prospect.
The BlackFinn in Mount Prospect is divided into two sections. There's a contemporary dining area on the right as you enter the restaurant, and a somewhat "sports bar" atmosphere area to the left. I decided to sit at the bar and catch some basketball that they had on the many flat screen televisions they had around the bar area.
The very busy bartender - the only bartender for the whole place - came over to greet me and asked me if I wanted anything to drink. They have over 40 different beers on tap at BlackFinn. One of the beers listed on the beer menu was a Bell's seasonal. I asked the bartender which seasonal it was and he said, "Uhhh, it's the Oktoberfest." I signed up for one of those. The only problem was that he didn't bring me the Oktoberfest, he poured me the Oberon Ale, Bell's wheat ale. I don't like wheat beers. But I couldn't get the bartender's attention to get another beer because he was so busy. I managed to drink the Oberon Ale.
It was evident from the bartender being so busy (one bartender for a place that size was a little ridiculous, I thought) that I was going to have to fend for myself if I wanted to think about getting food. A guy was seated two seats over and he had a menu that he was looking through. After he was finished, I asked if I could get it from him. The BlackFinn menu was a full mix of American-style food ranging from salads and appetizers, sandwiches and burgers, main entrees such as chicken, seafood and steaks, and a number of pasta dishes.
The first thing that jumped out at me was the bacon-wrapped meatloaf that BlackFinn had on their menu. It was sort of a "comfort food" night for me and the meatloaf was served with mashed sweet potatoes, collard greens and a housemade honey chipotle ketchup. I was kind of burnt out on burgers, but the Saloon burger also caught my eye. It was a 1/2 pound burger patty topped with bacon, mushroom, caramelized onions and Swiss cheese. Any other time I would have probably jumped on that. They also had pork carnitas tacos on the menu - slow roasted marinated pork topped pepper jack cheese, guacamole, tomatoes, onions and cilantro. I almost went with those.
But what I ended up ordering were the fish tacos. If you're a regular reader of Road Tips, you know I'm a sucker for a good grilled fish taco. The fish tacos at BlackFinn consisted of grilled tilapia (you could also get them beer-battered), topped with chopped cabbage, an avocado creme sauce, and cilantro. When the bartender brought the tacos out to me, I also ordered up a Lagunitas IPA that they had on tap.
The tacos were just what I was looking for. I didn't want anything really heavy for dinner and the tilapia was lightly grilled and had good flavor. I thought they were a little fishy, initially. But lemon juice and the avocado creme sauce helped mask any fishy taste they may have had. A side of rice pilaf came with the fish tacos and I scooped some onto each of my tacos to help enhance the taste. While I couldn't call them outstanding, they were good for what I was looking for that evening.
Other than getting the feeling that the place was woefully understaffed (one bartender for the size of a place like that?), I was pleased enough with my experience at BlackFinn. I also thought that the food at BlackFinn was above average, but not anything extremely special. When you're doing so many things on the menu, it's a little difficult to excel in one area. Typical of American-style regional restaurants, BlackFinn tries to have a little bit of everything on the menu to satiate the taste buds of any diner walking through the door. Other than the fact I wouldn't have any problem heading back to BlackFinn at some point, probably if I stay at the Hampton Inn in Mount Prospect and don't want to venture too far from the hotel some evening.