The first thing one sees when walking in the tall front doors of Metro Bar and Grill in the Twin Stacks Center, Dallas, is the bar at the front of the room, its long wooden counter leading to a diverse selection of beer taps at the far end.
Tables dot the center of the floor and booths line the walls, both downstairs and in the loft. A maze of piping and metal fixtures hangs overhead, reminiscent of the building’s days as a textile mill.
The setting brings a casual and nostalgic flare to the atmosphere of the establishment, which the owner, Tom Ford, 57, of Mount Pocono, describes as “a slightly upscale, fun, casual place with very good food and an excellent beer and wine selection.”
“I think that (the decor and history of the location) adds to the uniqueness of the place,” Ford said. “That, and in addition, we’re not just a nice place to look at, but a place where you can comfortably and reliably take family and friends for a very good meal and not be rushed out at the end of the meal. It’s the kind of place that people come to at 7:00 or 8:00 for dinner on a Friday and they’re still here at 12:30. It’s a place to hang out…That’s what we are.”
Since Ford purchased Metro on Jan. 1, 2011, he has made several changes to the business, the largest being the menu and hours of operation.
As of two weeks ago, the restaurant is now open seven days a week, adding Mondays to its schedule with drink specials and a Monday night football half-time buffet. The restaurant also recently added a Sunday brunch, starting at 10 a.m.
“When I took over, the food was very good,” Ford said. “I upgraded the product. And that’s across the board - from the least expensive items to the most expensive. “
He said the kitchen went from making about 20 percent of its food from scratch to about 85 percent from scratch. Instead of farm-raised frozen fish, it now uses fresh ocean-caught fish. The salmon steaks, as well as the beef steaks, are hand-cut for freshness. The burgers, which used to be made from ground chuck, are now exclusively ground Angus. The cheesesteaks are no longer pre-made, rather the beef is seasoned and roasted in-house. The chicken is purchased from Amish farms and the majority of the produce locally grown. The number of vegetarian selections on the menu has multiplied.
Even the beer selection was upgraded from a small, practically static tap selection to 24 taps, most of which rotate regularly, in addition to the bottled beer. Thirty-six wines are offered by the glass.
“The plan from day one has been to upgrade the food product but still keep it a casual and fun atmosphere,” Ford said.
A large amount of the “fun” part of the atmosphere comes with the live entertainment, another area in which Ford initiated changes. He said for the past few years, Metro brought in about 35 different local bands on both Friday and Saturday nights, as well as solo acoustic performers during the early evening hours.
In response to customers’ expressed desires to simply sit at a table and relax, chatting with their friends on a Saturday night, Ford decided to eliminate the Saturday night bands and bring in only acoustic performers in the early evening dinner hours for “very low key” performances.
Friday nights, however, still feature live bands and in October a regular rotation of the restaurant’s four most popular bands will commence. On the first Fridays of each month, Classic Rock Express will take the stage. Second Fridays will feature the Jeanne Zano Band. Third Fridays belong to Strawberry Jam. And on fourth Fridays, The Band Jax will provide the music. On months in which there are five Fridays, other popular local bands will perform.
Acoustic solo acts include singer/songwriter Paul Martin every Friday and Tony Vergnetti and Dustin Switzer rotating every other Saturday.
Live bands perform from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. and solo acoustic acts from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday nights will also feature live music by the house band from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
“We’re very fortunate in this area,” Ford said, “because we have a plethora of very talented original artists.”
“This is such a vibrant, involved community,” he said of the Back Mountain. “This is not just a bedroom community. People here are very actively involved at all levels of the whole Back Mountain area and I just love that sense of community belonging. Everybody takes an ownership interest in what goes on in the Back Mountain - whether it’s at the Metro or it has to do with traffic issues or whatever it is - and that’s important. People care about their community and you don’t get that everywhere.”
He added that’s why people enjoy staying in the Back Mountain and venture out of their homes to see their friends and neighbors. Metro, he said, provides a place to do that and that’s what he enjoys most about the business: “facilitating good times.”