I don't know where you were yesterday at 4 p.m. but there was only one place my "Around Town" duties would allow me to be.
The Meeting House.
It started when I first wrote about the new restaurant last July and it has built up to nearly a fevered pitch. No matter where I go — shopping downtown, my childrens' school, Girls Night Out — everyone wants to know about The Meeting House.
So when the doors officially opened for the first time yesterday, I was there.
With all the interest, I wasn't even surprised that I wasn't the first one in the door. A party of four was in front of me, a party of two right behind me and — for a random Tuesday night in December — the stream of new and curious customers was constant.
So how was it?
The first thing I did when I left The Meeting House last night was text a friend.
"I do believe The Meeting House is going to be our new hang out," was my message.
First, the food
Owners Chris Johnson and Jason Mood spent nine years working together as chef and manager at the Beverly Hills Grill and they had a clear vision of the restaurant they wanted to establish.
It would be one built on regulars.
"Our goal is to do stuff people want to eat every day," Johnson said back in July.
The Meeting House menu — small but brilliant in its variety — makes it very easy to do just that.
"We narrowed the menu down to what people love," Johnson said.
There are seven small plates including Chicken & Pork Belly Tacos, Spiced Calamari and Guacamole. Prices range from $6 to $9.
The salad menu has a half dozen to choose from including a Crispy Calamari Fattoush that I can't wait to go back to try. Salads range from $4 for the The Meeting House salad with bacon, cheddar and poppyseed dressing to $14 for the steak salad with grilled hanger steak, corn tortilla, avocado and blue cheese dressing.
There are nine items on the main menu and each seems to have its own intriguing element to set it apart. The Smoked Chicken Breast for $18 is served on maple-basted spaghetti squash. The Littleneck Clam Linguine is served with braised fennel; it's $16. And the Fish and Chips for $18 are prepared in a Rochester Mills IPA batter.
Although I was extremely tempted by the Wok Seared Pork Udon (another next-time promise), ultimately I went with the Steak Frites for $22. The flat iron steak is served with baby spinach, garlic-parmesan fries and topped with Zip sauce. The steak was juicy and flavorful and perfectly paired with the spinach. And the fries, made in-house, are amazing. Yes, I just used the word amazing to describe french fries, but don't judge me until you've tried them.
The dinner menu — and at this stage the restaurant is only serving dinner — is rounded off with two burgers and three wood-burning oven pizzas. Burgers and pizzas range from $9 to $11.
While we're on the subject of that wood-burning oven, let's talk about the bread sticks. They are prepared continuously throughout the night in that oven and served warm in a little brown bag. Fun? Yes. Delicious? Dangerously so!
A really great restaurant is more than just the food, and clearly Johnson and Mood get that. They've created a space that invites you to come in and stay awhile.
It's contemporary while being entirely cozy.
The exposed brick and wide windows. The light wood and dark walls. The high ceiling and phenomenal lights. It's certainly come a long way in five months.
"We're thrilled with the way it turned out," Mood said.
The bar area seats 10 and serves beer, wine and five signature cocktails. Bartender Jennifer Tillery describes them as "a new spin on some classics."
I tried the Dark and Stormy cocktail with dark rum, ginger beer and a splash of lime. Delightfully light it's a bit like a liquid version of a gingerbread cookie. It's $10.
And if by any chance you've saved room for dessert, there are a half-dozen to choose from, including a seasonal fruit crisp and a warm cookie served with Ray's ice cream. The flavor changes daily.
Ray's ice cream, located in Royal Oak, is one of the eight Michigan farms and companies The Meeting House uses.
'Come on up'
In July Mood said that he and Johnson want The Meeting House to be a neighborhood place where people come and hang out.
On its first day of business it looked as if the new restaurant is already reaching that goal.
Sitting at the bar, a man got on his cell phone to call some friends.
"Hey, we're at The Meeting House, sitting at the end of the bar. You should come on up!"
The Meeting House is located at 301 Main Street. It is open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. They are closed Monday. Call 248-759-4825 with questions. The Meeting House does not accept reservations or call-ahead seating.