December's Featured Restaurant.
There are French fries, which we've all had, and then there are garlic frites - which only those of us lucky enough to dine at The Meadlowlark Restaurant have experienced.
We've got at least one friend who swears that the appetizer -perfectly salted and garlic-dusted thin fries served Belgian-style in a paper wrap with two dipper sauces - is his favorite thing to eat in the whole world. And while he may be hyperbolizing in a fit of post-frites delight, just choosing a single fave from amongst the many pleasures at Meadowlark is no mean feat.
There were high hopes when this place opened about two years ago along St. Rte. 725 in the south Dayton suburbs, based on owner Beth Wiley's previous association with The Winds Cafe, the fabled Yellow Springs restaurant that's been drawing visitors to that Greene County village since the 1970s.
Wiley's goal was to open a friendly, neighborhood restaurant that was big on service, charm and quality. That she did so in a shopping center along a mall-dominated strip of chain restaurants and fast-food joints was a bit surprising at the time, but good reviews piled up and word went around town that the Meadowlark was the smart new place to stop.
You forget the anonymous exterior as soon as you step inside, greeted by a warm, bustling room of bright yellow and red walls, hung with local art. They won't take reservations for groups smaller than six, but they'll put your name on a seating list if you call about a half-hour before you arrive, and seating generally happens quickly.
If somehow you don't feel tempted at this point by the garlic frites (but really, trust us) try starting out with one of the splendid homemade soups, always served with cornbread. It was a zesty tomato on the recent night we stopped by, and on previous visits we've also enjoyed the fried green tomatoes with chow-chow and sweet basil remoulade, a truly offbeat appetizer.
Meadowlark specializes in American fare with well-placed hints of the exotic and overseas - a dash of Asian here, an unexpected bit of Mediterranean there. The grilled prime sirloin ($22.95, and the priciest entree on a moderately priced menu) arrived as a perfectly cooked piece of pure Americana, served with haystack onions, buttermilk mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables that are far from the afterthought you find at a lot of restaurants. The seared salmon, by contrast, is cooked with yogurt, fresh herbs, sesame and Fresno chiles, which combine for an unusual and subtle taste sensation.
The wine list is not extensive, but shows knowledge and flair - something that could be said, as well, of the exceptional wait staff, who give the impression of understanding the menu far better than one often finds these days.
The Meadowlark will take care of you at midday, too. Sunday spotlights the most eclectic brunch menu in town. And during the week, Meadowlark earns comments for a singular lunch entree - Hoppin' John, a wild concoction of black-eyed peas, rice, cheddar cheese, chopped tomato and green onion for $8.95.
THE MEADOWLARK RESTAURANT, 2094 Miamisburg-Centerville Rd. (St. Rte. 725), Miami Township, south of Dayton near the Dayton Mall, 937/434-4750. www.meadowlarkrestaurant.com. Tues.-Thur. 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m., closed Mondays. Dinner entrees $9.95-$22.95. CR 3