Now in its third week of operation, the place is jam-packed after 5 p.m. and clearly already enjoying some repeat business. On my first visit for lunch last week, I was quickly impressed by the staff’s excellent product knowledge and confident recommendations. Friendly and unpretentious, they immediately made me feel welcome and unhurried.
The following evening, my wife and I paid a return visit with a few friends for an early dinner. Our timing couldn’t have been better, because for the next two hours there wasn’t a seat to be had, and this isn’t exactly a tiny establishment. Bustling and pleasantly noisy, the place had great energy, our server kept the food and drinks coming at a nicely-judged pace, and everyone around us seemed to be having a great time.
Cleanly and stylishly appointed in blacks, greys and earth tones, Matt the Miller's Tavern is divided up into several dining areas, including a spacious bar with no fewer than ten Indiana beers on tap, as well as a host of premium brews from around the country. Although ostensibly a bar and grill, the restaurant does an excellent job of skirting the obvious choices in favor of a more adventurous and refreshingly more complicated menu than is usual in such places.
Standouts on the appetizer menu have to include the cheddar grits with sautéed shrimp in a spicy cream sauce ($12), and the sweetly spicy calamari in a crunchy peanut, chili and lime sauce for ($10). The former was expertly prepared, the grits smooth and creamy but not sloppy.
The calamari dish could have used an extra squeeze of lime to balance the sweetness, but was otherwise delicious with a touch of heat. Both were garnished to within an inch of their lives, and could probably have benefited from a bit of restraint in that department.
A plate of Bavarian pretzel bites ($8), wonderfully fluffy at the center, was enhanced enormously by a smooth and intensely-flavored roasted garlic dipping sauce which had out table practically fighting for the last drops.
Of the several main courses we sampled two really stood out. The black and blue flatbread ($14) was perhaps a touch over-seasoned, but featured perfectly medium-rare slices of sirloin well balanced with a sweetish red pepper pesto and a caramelized Guinness reduction.
The second was also a flatbread, this time with crimini mushrooms and goat cheese, finished with a generous helping of moderately peppery baby arugula. Both were delicious modern pub dishes, properly done. A sandwich of blackened walleye was perfectly cooked, but might have benefited from a less oily condiment than mayonnaise.
We barely saved room for dessert, but it was worth it: a really splendid, and quite enormous, banana bread pudding, fashioned from a mixture of brioche and croissant and served in a boozy whiskey sauce. I’ve had far worse at far swankier establishments recently, so this was a pleasant reminder of how it should be done.
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