In spite of its clunky name, the ultra-new Matt the Miller's looks to have success written all over it. I say this not just because of its opening week crowds - though those were impressive - but also because MTM (which has a brother in Dublin) seems cleverly designed to have widespread appeal.
Situated smack dab in the heart of Grandview Avenue's restaurant row, it's got a respectable West Coast-focused wine list (with nearly half-off bottle deals on "Winedown Wednesdays"); a great selection of craft beers including a couple dozen on tap (with suds from Bell's, Troeg's, CBC and Chimay); and, most important, bold-flavored food that's familiar enough for play-it-safers yet interesting enough for more adventurous types.
MTM's ambiance also looks to cover many bases. There's a handsome, loud and rowdy bar area with terrific HD flat-screens beaming in sports. As for the other three or so carved out and somewhat quieter (though by no means serene) dining spaces, they're outfitted in black, brick, brown and cream and there's a neat vintage pressed-tin ceiling facsimile.
As with most of the menu, MTM's starters are well-traveled and road-tested warhorses given nifty twists. So the Pacific Rim Calamari ($10) are the expected fried rings doused in that sticky, sweet and spicy Thai chili sauce, but these receive more crunch and interest from Asian-appropriate add-ons like shaved snow pea pods, scallions, toasted peanuts (inspired idea there) and bell peppers.
Matt's Sliders ($8) were a trio of darkly crusted Black Angus mini-patties detailed with a "sweet red onion marmalade" and daubs of blue cheese. Not bad, but they ate much better without their overwhelming large buns and were a considerably better value for $5 at happy hour.
Soups ($5) were uniformly flavorful and satisfying. The always-available Beer Cheese (spicy, smoky with bacon) and Tomato Bisque (pulpy, bright and garnished with basil) were creamy and rich, while a du jour Chicken and Asparagus was chunky, nice and light.
The signature Matt's Salad ($6) rounded up fresh greens, crispy, cinnamony spiced walnuts and chewy apricot bits with grated white cheddar cheese. I liked how the horseradish-hit grainy mustardy dressing both contrasted with and helped unite the other elements.
MTM's fun flatbreads are crackery thin and often topped with provocative ingredients such as Ahi Tuna and miso mousse; shrimp and tasso ham; salmon and lemon cream cheese. The crowd-pleasing Black & Bleu ($13) featured super-tender beef, red peppers and a hoisin-like "Guinness reduction."
MTM does a very commendable job with meaty entrees like a lusty, feeds-two Blackened New York Strip ($30) and a seared, huge and zingy Smoked Pork Tenderloin ($18). Still, it doesn't neglect seafood eaters or vegetable lovers.
Among its many aquatic preparations is a Chesapeake-Style Crabcake ($20). That biggie was made with generous tufts of high-quality lump meat worked into a large, Old Bay-riffing mass that rested atop stiff cheese grits and a pool of roasted red pepper sauce.
The gigantic Asparagus Lasagna ($14) packed in a ton of meat-free flavor with its mushrooms, ricotta cheese mix and zesty tomato sauce, with the latter ladled broth-like underneath.
From the list of great-looking sandwiches, the vegan Black Bean Burger ($10, with a good exterior burgery crust but hummusy-mushy inside) also managed to sneak in a bunch of meatless flavor from its bright and addictive cilantro pesto plus roasted red peppers and Southwestern spices.
As for the service - it was well-intentioned, if a bit slow and spotty during the rush of first-week customers (for example, there were some very slow-arriving entrees and happy-hour discount confusions). But overall I'd say the swamped staff dealt well with the eager Grandviewers flocking to the newest hotspot on the block.
For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog at blog.columbusalive.com/underthetable