Reminisce at The Paragon Supper Club in Centerville

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Beef Wellington at The Paragon Supper Club in Centerville; photo: Paula Johnson

Today we are going to talk about Centerville’s Paragon Supper Club, but we can’t do that without some context, and some nostalgia on this critic’s part. I begin by invoking The Mona Lisa supper club—the closest thing to The Louvre my 9-year-old self thought I would ever get. Hell, I thought I was at Versailles when the very occasional special occasion would arise for us to go there. My mother would pull out my Easter dress from the back of the closet, which had a matching purse to go with it (!), and we would arrive in style, presenting ourselves before the maître’d, a word I practiced saying because it felt sophisticated. Diners murmured in soft tones, with soft tinkling piano music in the background. There was no jangling clatter of our local Dairy Mart Diner here. The hushed elegance felt like reverence, like church. It’s one of the first times I recall being aware of lighting—I mean, they had wall sconces and chandeliers and candles. The wallpaper was flocked velvet, the deep color of red roses against a snowy white blanket of crisp linen tablecloths. I was allowed to order a Shirley Temple. Adults around me sipped on drinks like Grasshoppers and Golden Cadillacs. There was something called escargot on the menu. I inhaled the whole divine, garlicky, buttery mess without anyone telling me they were snails. So do I have it bad for supper clubs? Yep. Supper clubs, I can’t quit you.

 

Up in the Club

What exactly is a supper club? Hugely popular in the Midwest, it’s a traditional dining establishment that also functions as a social club—or, more accurately, used to. In former times they were a combination of nightclub with entertainment and dining establishment. They’ve evolved into usually just restaurants rather than the all-night entertainment destinations of the past. In general, supper clubs tend to present themselves as having a high-class image, even if the price is affordable to all. Supper clubs generally feature menus offering straightforward, simply prepared American classics. Think prime rib, steaks, chicken, and fish. (A newer usage of the term supper club has emerged, referring to underground pop-up style restaurants, which is a much different thing.)

Now that we’ve dispensed with a whole lot of background, let’s pull The Paragon into the foreground. PIP (Palate In Progress) and I chose a Tuesday night, generally an off night in most restaurants, to give it a try. Open since the 1970s, The Paragon is a sacred Dayton dining destination consistently ranking near the top of every favorites poll. The well-maintained building has a large porte-cochere for dropping off well-dressed ladies in inclement weather, something deeply appreciated on the cold, rainy night we visited. The building’s exterior itself is not ornate—it’s modern in design, but this feature telegraphs what the interior space confirms: The Paragon is a place that’s certainly a little more than casual (indeed, there is a dress code precluding shorts and tank tops).

We arrived on the early side to find a surprising number of tables full, and several patrons in the wood-paneled bar area enjoying live piano music (something I enjoyed a great deal as well). Warmly lit and intimate, I started having all the childhood throwback supper club feels. We were escorted to a cozy, leather-upholstered booth by a very young but dapperly dressed host, who spread menus before us to begin our evening. The menu is not large as expected, hitting all the highlights of supper clubs past: prime rib, steaks and chops, fish, with appetizers offerings like shrimp cocktail, oysters Rockefeller, and escargot, of course. Not a whiff of sriracha, cilantro, or gochujang to be found. The evening’s special was Beef Wellington ($38.95), a quintessential supper club dish, and a must order for me. Crusty layers of puff pastry and duxelle-smeared tenderloin is hard to surpass if done well.

PIP would have the Ribeye ($41.95), but first wanted to start with the Appetizer Platter For Two ($19.95).  Shrimp cocktail, lump crab, smoked peppered salmon, smoked trout, and several packs of crackers came nestled around bowls of ketchup and remoulade sauces. A nice portion and good quality seafood, and a perfect set up for the beef to come. As I looked for a wine to pair, I also want to note the wine menu at The Paragon. They have some nice bottle offerings and a few good ones by the glass, another big plus for me.

 

Abide the Sides

So, how was the Wellington and Ribeye? The Wellington arrived in a puffed pastry pocket filled with still medium rare beef smeared with mushroom duxelle on a bed of savory beef gravy. The plate was adorned with broccoli florets for an attractive presentation. I’m not sure the gravy was even necessary, almost overwhelming the pastry and beef, but for the most part, I was one happy supper clubber. As was PIP with his steak, done as ordered with onion straws and cajun butter. On the side, he ordered corn and rice, perfect for a man who has been on a no-carb diet forever. However, he found both a little bland. His description? “Meh.” (PIP and I had been to The Paragon a couple years before, and I distinctly remember thinking they needed to start paying more attention to vegetables and starches.) Our salads fell into the same category: mine a house with vinaigrette and his a Caesar. Not bad, but nothing noteworthy. If I have a complaint about The Paragon, it’s the same I have with so many places—they lack peripheral vision, mainly focusing on what’s on the center of the plate Side dishes seem to be an afterthought, as PIP’s uninspired corn and rice.

I’ve occasionally struggled with the relevance of old-style places like The Paragon, balanced against contemporary places with a fresher approach to dining. But at the end of the day, I think there’s room for both. And The Paragon is doing a fine job of doing what they’ve always done, the way they’ve always done it. There is room for a little improvement, which I’ll be looking for on my next visit.

We capped the night off with a perfect Pecan Ball ($6.75) with hot fudge sauce, for me, and Key Lime pie ($5.25), PIP’s favorite. The evening’s service had been professional and attentive, something we both happily noted. We sipped, we sampled, we supped, and we had a wonderful evening at The Paragon.

 

The Paragon Supper Club is located at 797 Miamisburg-Centerville Rd. in Centerville. For more information, please visit TheParagonSupperClub.com or call 937.433.1234.

 

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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