It has been two months since Palate opened in downtown Milford, and you can finally get a table without a two-hour wait -- usually, anyway. I've been going at off-peak times just to be sure.
To say that Milford-area diners greeted this place with enthusiasm would be an understatement.
Owner Joe Hibbert hoped to launch Palate last spring, so the suspense had been growing. Add to that his Main Street location, in a building that stood vacant for three years, and you can see why customers couldn't wait for the doors to open.
Inside, the former O'Callaghan's Irish Pub now has a cleaner, simpler, more open design featuring a handsome, beer-centric bar just inside the entrance; a large family-friendly dining room toward the back with tables set in long rows, and a smaller, TV-free dining room to the right of the entrance.
The extensive cherry woodwork and bead-board wainscoting of the former pub are painted black, contrasting with a rich butterscotch color on the upper walls. The larger main room -- with its unfussy décor and flat-screen TVs -- is louder, more casual and well-suited to families. The quieter, smaller area -- designated for adults only -- feels a bit dressier with its granite-topped tables, corner fireplace and bay window facing the sidewalk.
I liked the welcoming feel of the bar, too, not to mention its big selection of well-priced Michigan craft beers.
Palate's eclectic menu is designed for a wide variety of tastes and occasions. Over three visits, I found the casual dishes to be the best.
I loved the char-grilled flavor of the thick, juicy steak burger ($9), served medium-rare as ordered on a flavorful bun burnished with shredded cheddar. It came with top-notch, sizzling hot Idaho fries and garnishes of leaf lettuce, tomato and red onion.
The Carnivore Pizza ($14) was a hit -- from the puffy, crisp edges of the crust, through the bright tomato-y flavors of the sauce, to the surprise combination of pepperoni, crisp bacon, capicola and kielbasa as the meat toppings. The pizzas are more than enough for two to share. Thumbs up, too, to the comforting, well-made French onion soup ($4).
The 10-item small-plates menu ranges from escargot to Cajun chicken mac and cheese. We tried the chipotle-glazed scallops wrapped in crisp bacon ($10) and enjoyed their delicious salty-sweet-smoky flavor. And because I'd never seen fried chicken livers ($9) on a menu like this, I had to try them. Served with a trio of mustards for dipping, they were fun and rich -- and no one asked to share them.
We were less pleased with two of the entrees we tried.
The breading mixture on the encrusted lamb chops ($21) had been scorched, and they were cooked beyond the medium-rare we ordered. The mushroom risotto served with them was stiff and not very hot. The duck with mango-orange glaze ($21) wasn't seasoned well, and the skin was thick and chewy rather than crisp.
The night included a high note, though, with a slice of wonderfully light, moist limoncello mascarpone cake, at just $4.
Palate is still very new. While I encountered a few misses, I also found some very good dishes -- which happen to be the ones most people order. It's a nice place, and it's still evolving. Check it out next time you're in Milford. (449 N. Main; 248-714-5707 and www.facebook.com/palateofmilford)