It’s no secret I love food. I have a sister who graduated culinary school and a personal love of cooking myself there’s really no way around this kind of love. So when I caught wind there’s a new little restaurant opening in my hometown of Monroe I could not wait to try it. No, seriously. I flexed those investigative muscles I earned in journalism school to track down the owner.
The owner and head chef of this modernized hole-in-the-wall is James Bailey and the place is called Main Street Social. Bailey is a 1996 graduate of Lemon Monroe High School. It was while he was working under George Burnas, owner of Brandywine Inn, that Bailey became inspired to go to culinary school. He packed his bags and headed to the Northeast to attend Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. Since graduating there Bailey has served as a team chef for the New England Patriots as well as managed and had a hand in developing numerous restaurants over the years. However, this is his first time owning his own restaurant.
I had the chance to dine at Main Street Social just days after they opened their doors. The building itself was built in 1850 and formally housed the popular Monroe fixture, The Red Onion. As you step inside you are immediately greeted with smiling faces and the atmosphere is invitingly warm. We arrived around 8:00pm on a Friday night, the space itself is very small with only about a 40 person capacity. However, the small size works well with the whole concept. The table spaces were all occupied but there was plenty of room at the bar. After we took our bar seats the female bartender came right over, not only did she introduce herself but she also asked us our names. Both Brian and I were surprised and very impressed she made the point to learn our names. It’s the small details like that, that really made this place stand out instantly.
The menu is comprised of bar food with a gourmet twist. It’s foodie but without the pretentiousness that usually accompanies the word. When developing the menu wanted to serve the freshest quality with most the plates consisting of five ingredients or less. The idea of Main Street Social is heavily based on their daily specials. Instead of having a freezer full of frozen foods, Bailey uses local and fresh ingredients. All entrees are daily specials therefore change frequently. But don’t worry, if you’re a creature of habit there are an array of appetizers, salads, burgers, and sandwiches that are permanent fixtures on the menu.
By the time we arrived the specials for the day had just sold out so we settled for the Beer Cheddar Dip to kick things off then Brian had the Social Burger while I sank my teeth into the BBQ Bacon Cheddar Burger. I could have ate the cheese dip with a spoon and licked the little bowl clean, but for the sake of manners I refrained. Once our bartender, Melissa, brought out our burgers our conversation immediately silenced except for the periodic, “holy shit this is good,” and “ohhhhhh my god yummmm,” that was moaned. Yes, in front of God and everyone we both sat at the bar in full foodgasm. It wasn’t a full out scene from “When Harry Met Sally” but it was close. To give you an example, I absolutely hate onions. However, I don’t know what Bailey did to the onions on my burger but I was catching them mid drop to shove in my mouth. That’s how good every single bite was.
You can’t have a social gathering place without a little alcohol. There is a big emphasis on the drinks that are served at Main Street Social. They have an amazing selection of wine but the spotlight is on the local craft beers and house cocktails. And rightfully so. Each month features eight different craft beers on tap (yes, I said they are on tap) that are locally brewed from microbreweries in Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky. This month every craft beer featured is from Ohio. The house cocktails deserve their time in the spotlight as well! These cocktails were carefully selected for their menu and mixed with a great selection of liquors. Unless you’re in Cincinnati they’re the only place around that serves my favorite vodka, Titos. And let’s just say, Tito isn’t one to share a bar shelf with just any ol’ bottle of vodka. If you’re more of a whiskey fan you’ll be happy to know their whiskey game is also on point.
To be honest, Main Street Social is like a little slice of OTR but without the hipsters or craft beer snobs. It’s modern but not so out there you feel like you have to dress up. It’s laid back with a sense of intimacy and familiarity where you can relax, shoot the breeze, drink a great tasting craft beer, and enjoy amazing food.
Keep up with all the happenings at Main Street Social in Monroe by liking their Facebook page. To view their menu (p.s. they do to-go and catering), visit TheMainStreetSocial.com. Or check out the place for yourself in person at 214 Main Street.
Photo Credit: Brian Cundiff