The main strip of downtown Royal Oak is a mashup of bro-tastic bars and family-friendly restaurants. You've got your Barnes & Noble turned Buffalo Wild Wings. Your BD's Mongolian Grill, good for thrifty parents needing to shovel mounds of meat in front of their offspring. And the open-late rooftop of Woody's, where dudes are guaranteed their share of chicken tenders along with their brews.
Which brings us to Onyx. The place is a redesign of the first floor of Woody's, the multi-level bar and club that attracts the younger set. This rebranding appears to be a play to attract a more mature crowd, less intent on late-night, rooftop imbibing. Instead, your empty-nester parents might go here for date night. Or maybe a ladies night out, for women of a certain age who care not to squeeze into bodycon mini dresses and spike heels. It's well-lighted, with stone wall accents and exposed brick. Seating is plentiful and spread out. It's ideal for just about any game-day needs, as the wall alongside the large bar is essentially covered in flat screens. On weekends, guests are greeted by live jazz or blues sets that are just energetic enough to set the tone but not so loud as to interrupt the latest gossip between friends.
Along with the aesthetic makeover, prices have gone up, but with that rise guests are also given a variety of 75 whiskey, scotch, bourbon, cocktails, and a decent list of wine and beer. Menu offerings are aimed toward a crowd less interested in innovation in the kitchen but more comfortable with comforting Americana fare. For folks still craving that Woody's vibe, there's a late-night menu featuring wings, loaded wedges, mini tacos, and other bar food.
Really, though, the centerpiece of the menu is the "on the rocks" section, which is where the kitchen hands the cooking duties over to the diner. A cut of Angus beef steak and/or a handful of jumbo shrimp is thrown onto a hot lava rock, heated to more than 800 degrees, and served while it's still sizzling. It's up to the guest to flip the meat and add the desired amount of accents like garlic butter, zip sauce, balsamic glaze, or wine sauce. The trick to getting the meat just so, as it cooks really fast on the stone, is to flip it about every 75 seconds and then to slice it to see when it reaches the desired temperature. Wait much longer than that and it will come out well-done (read: ruined). It sounds like a lot of work, but it's worth it for finicky steak lovers who want to control just how red their protein remains and for parties where the DIY portion of the meal serves as a fun, hands-on activity. The more scientific point, though, is that searing the meat on the blazing hot rock also helps lock in the juices.
Choose from a list of standard sides and the entrée is complete. The steak options include ribeye, filet mignon, T-bone, and some prime selections, though both times we visited the prime cuts were not available. As for the prices, sure they've increased, but like us, you can grab a ribeye, a surf and turf, and a couple of drinks and walk out the door for less than $70.
Aside from the "on the rocks" selections, meat plays a huge role all over this menu. In fact, save for a few of the veggie sides and dinner rolls, there is not a vegetarian entrée to be found. Even the salads are loaded with applewood-smoked bacon or char-grilled chicken breast. Pulled pork also makes a prominent appearance on the menu and comes atop nachos, in sliders, and in the spot's signature Onyx Burger, featuring a half-pound seasoned beef patty, barbecue-smoked pulled pork, onion rings, and gouda cheese on a toasted brioche bun. The whole thing seems as though two separate sandwiches were smashed together to make one mega burger. It's slippery with the barbecue sauce and thus prone to falling apart in your hands, which is just part of the problem. The meats don't complement each other, rather competing for your attention.
It's also not the only menu item to go all kitchen-sink. The New Orleans pasta, with penne pasta, blackened jumbo shrimp, andouille sausage, chicken tenderloins, fresh parsley, cajun spices, and creole-style palomino sauce, sounds pretty straightforward and traditional, like a spicy ziti, but the sausage is nothing more than pepperoni-thin slices and the shrimp would be better served on their own.
For those interested in sharing a bite to pick at throughout the night, there is a sizable listing of starters like the spicy chicken quesadilla, balsamic bruschetta bread, Onyx wings, and pizza that seemed to be a hit with several tables opting for that route instead of selecting individual entrees. It reinforces the notion that the point here is not so much about the food, of which there are great options, but rather the communal experience of getting out of the house and enjoying some company.
What Onyx tries to do is offer a little something for everyone. And in many ways it does it well, though the menu could stand to simplify. Grownups on the first floor can make grilling their own steaks part of the evening's entertainment. Regulars have their snacks at the bar. And the kiddos have their rooftop fun at Woody's. What's wrong with that?