Road Trip to Royal Oak

As a foodie without proper transportation, I often find myself limited in my choices.  So when my roommate with her wonderful addition of a car suggested we take a little trip to Royal Oak to try a place called Town Tavern, I was thrilled.  Though she’s a little biased because she's as a server for the restaurant in her free time, she assured me that the food was fantastic.  That was all I needed to hear. Town Tavern is one of four restaurants owned by Bill Roberts, a premier restaurateur in the area.  It is described on the website as being a 1930’s style tavern with an emphasis on “fresh, familiar, American fare.”

To say that Town Tavern is popular among the locals would be an understatement.  After speaking to manager Stephanie Foster, it was clear that Town Tavern is supported primarily by customer loyalty.  There is even a little boasting that the restaurant is a favorite among the Red Wings hockey players.  Being in Royal Oak, an attractive hangout spot for a younger crowd, Town Tavern sees a lot of diverse business, from college students to visiting families.  Even so, Stephanie emphasized the restaurant’s typically upscale clientele, saying “we’re definitely the starting point of the trip versus the end.”

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The atmosphere of the restaurant has the feeling of being very classic, like an old American sports car.  It is elegant and nostalgic, and in this way, romantic.  Old photographs line the wood paneled walls, and dark benches cut through the center of the room with an old-fashioned looking bar at one end.  Utilizing a “scratch kitchen,” everything but the ketchup is made fresh on site.  The menu does not change often and when it does it is met with disappointment from the traditionalists.  Though the daily specials allow some creativity for the chefs, there is a clear effort to keep the cuisine consistent and timeless.  “We’re definitely not pretentious or snooty.  We want you to read our menu and understand it,” Stephanie explained.

The food is elevated home-style American with the menu including things like seared sea scallops and a warm tenderloin salad, but also meatloaf and macaroni and cheese.  Town Tavern’s food achieves its goal.  It’s comfort food all the way: salty, warm, heavy, and creamy.

Of the most popular dishes on the menu, none is as famous as the Parmesan truffle fries.  Stacked high on a plate like golden Jenga, the shoestring fries are topped with sliced Parmesan, fried sweet onions, and fresh green onions.  In a word, these bad boys are dangerous.  There is something about the combination of Parmesan and fried potato that creates an experience as sinfully delicious as fried macaroni and cheese.  While eating them, it becomes a little disappointing that the topping does not stick to the fries, but my roommate showed me the way to deal with this.  After the fries were gone, one is to take a large spoon and scoop up the leftover onions, Parmesan, and bits of potato like a breakfast cereal.  Like I said, dangerous.

If the fries were the dominating sin of the appetizers, it seems like the lobster mac and cheese is its equivalent for the entrées.  Made with mascarpone cheese, the “lob mac” is short-tubed pasta and chunks of lobster baked in a large ramekin with a topping of Ritz crackers and a squeeze of lemon juice.  The dish is heavy with the creamy cheeses but not overly salty.  The lobster meat provides its seafood flavor while the mixture of butter cracker, lemon, and potentially the sweetness of the mascarpone come together in what I tasted as similar to a lemon shortbread.  Though not fulfilling my usual preference for intense flavors, I enjoyed the dish.

Finally, in traditional “bust day” fashion, we ordered dessert.  The gala apple and berry crumble was served warm in the dish it was baked in.  The stewed fruit is topped with a spiced crumb and in our case, accompanied by a dish of Mackinac Island Fudge ice cream, courtesy of Royal Oaks own Ray’s Ice Cream.  Maybe it’s just because I’m a chocolate lover, but I found the large fudge chunks and slightly tart, slightly spiced fruit to be the perfect pairing.  They let you choose your ice cream, so if they offer you one with chocolate, I highly recommend it.

Gala Apple Berry Crumble Photo by Jasmine McNenny

Final Recommendation: From what I gathered, the point of Town Tavern is not necessarily to blow your mind with technique or flavor; it’s to create comforting, approachable food that anyone can enjoy.  Though I think I would have preferred more freshness to the menu, the warm-belly approach to the menu is obviously quite popular.  For me the restaurant doesn’t win any major points for creativity, but with such a strong customer following the motto seems to be “don’t fix what’s not broken.” Overall, if you find yourself in Royal Oak and you want a guaranteed good, American meal, Town Tavern is the place.  Oh, and be sure to get the truffle fries.

If you would like to learn more about Town Tavern, here is some basic contact information:

Town Tavern

116 West Fourth Street Royal Oak, MI  48067 Phone: 248-544-7300

Website: http://www.towntavernroyaloak.com/index.php?ckey=about

Hours Mon-Thur 11:30am-11pm Fri-Sat 11:30am-midnight Sunday 11:30am-10pm