Located on happening West Fourth Street in Royal Oak, a block and a half from the Royal Oak Music Theater, is a popular gathering place called Town Tavern.

Don’t confuse it with an ordinary bar, despite the “tavern” in its name. Under the direction of Executive Chef Ray Backers, this is a sophisticated restaurant offering an upscale, fresh take on familiar American fare. Naturally, Town Tavern serves a dandy cocktail and since the addition of a draft beer system this summer, four Michigan craft beers are on tap.

Native east-side Detroiter Bill Roberts opened Town Tavern in June 2007 as part of his Birmingham-based Roberts Restaurants Group. It includes several notable properties in Oakland County. Preceding Town Tavern were Streetside Seafood (former Richard & Reiss) in Birmingham and Beverly Hills Grill of that city. This past February, Roberts opened Roadside Bar & Grill (former Brandy’s) in Bloomfield Hills and his next restaurant, at Maple and Lahser roads, should debut by early 2013.

“With Town Tavern, we thought this was a great opportunity to offer a high-quality fresh food operation in downtown Royal Oak, including quality appetizers,” said Roberts, a Michigan State University hospitality program graduate who formerly worked for Machus Restaurants Group and Pontiac Silverdome.

Ron Rhea designs the decor at all Roberts Group restaurants.

“I wouldn’t do anything without him,” Roberts said. “He has a great feel for what people like.”

For Town Tavern, “an upscale 1930s-style tavern,” Rhea used rosewood, marble, mohair and stainless. Features include weathered dark wood, chocolate velvet upholstered booths, frosted ribbed glass, and scenes and faces of old Royal Oak framed on paneled walls. The look is nostalgic, yet contemporary. The dining room accommodates 100; French doors lead to a small patio.

Now, it’s time to eat! In addition to several soups, side salads and sandwiches at lunch, look to the chalkboard for an omelet of the day. The listed entree salads are Caesar with Buffalo shrimp or grilled chicken breast, pulled chicken in a maple-mustard vinaigrette and warm tenderloin, including walnuts, blue cheese and red onions in a balsamic vinaigrette. Buffalo mac and cheese, made with cheddar, is a customer favorite.

“They made the best Caesar salad I’ve had in a long time,” said Shirley Kaplan of Southfield, a lunchtime guest. She also raved about the freshly baked Parmesan-garlic rolls.

I was pleased with Town Tavern’s treatment of Caprese salad, a simple, go-to dish for summer. Alternating slices of vine-ripened tomato and mozzarella were artistically arranged on a plate, topped with chopped fresh basil and a drizzle of balsamic-reduction dressing.

Popular choices at dinner include lobster mac and (Mascarpone) cheese, fresh seafood specials on the chalkboard, broiled Great Lakes whitefish and oregano-lemon grilled shrimp. For meat-fanciers, try the “Blue Ribbon” cheeseburger or Buffalo burger, and tender filet mignon or reserve-aged New York strip steak, both accompanied by jumbo grilled asparagus, steak-cut fries and Tavern steak butter.

“Our Bar Plates are really popular,” Roberts said. The small, tasty portions include lump crab cakes with mustard sauce, five-spice calamari with Asian aioli, short rib tacos and especially, the Parmesan truffle fries. This Tavern specialty consists of thinly cut fries tossed with truffle oil and sprinkled with Parmesan and a bit of parsley for color. Yum!

Cocktails, such as the signature Michigan Cherry Screwdriver or Tavern Bloody Mary (made with jalapeno-infused vodka), go well with Bar Plates. Or choose from the Dessert Wine/Port list or have a specialty liquor-enhanced coffee. Non-alcoholic Faygo Floats come in three pop flavors.

Ray’s Ice Cream in Royal Oak provides the featured daily flavor, and Gala apple-berry cobbler goes very well with ice cream. Other desserts are creme brulee and carrot or chocolate stout cakes.

The service here is exceptionally attentive. Setting the tone are general manager Stephanie Foster and managers Margo Ladd, Matt Allgeier, Melissa Crossman and Justin Fuller.

Town Tavern
116 W. Fourth St.Royal Oak, MI 48067
(248) 544-7300
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