“I would never have come to this place before like this,” says Paul Harmon. Wearing a battered sweatshirt and camo shorts, he was sitting at the bar of the newly christened Fillmore Bar & Grill munching on fish and chips. He and wife Leah, beside him, are Dexter residents who just spent the day swabbing the decks on the forty-nine-foot sailboat they keep docked on Lake Erie. Leah was similarly attired. The Fillmore, she agrees, is “more laid-back” than its predecessor, Terry B’s.

The Harmons eat out four or five nights a week, not just in Dexter but all over the area (next on their to-do list is the Jackson Rd. Standard Bistro & Larder), and as Terry B’s, this had been one of their regular haunts. But had it not been for the slight change of course signaled by the addition of “bar and grill” to the name, Paul said, they would have avoided it after a dirty, sweaty day on the boat and gone somewhere else.

This unsolicited endorsement of a new and welcome informality at the Fillmore came about when I asked “Fish and chips any good here?” to the guy sitting next to me at the bar. Paul said it was. Leah added that the food has always been good since Coley O’Brien bought the restaurant over a year ago. O’Brien’s fairly subtle changes, of which the name change is the biggest, accomplished exactly what he set out to do.

The menu has been tweaked by chef Adam Boonstra. Poutine with pulled pork, for instance, is new, but the fish and chips that Paul was plowing through have been there all along, and this is still a place where you can get a $28 dollar entree (steak, fries, and oyster mushrooms, served with red wine demi-glace). Some minor redecorating has taken place–chairs are new, tablecloths are gone, and some of the bar area dining tables have been replaced by high tops. In restaurant semiotics, high-top tables are intended to signal a more casual atmosphere, because “people relate to it as an extension of the bar,” says O’Brien. Other than that nugget of restaurant intelligence, he says his wife Nicole and Forward Design handled the redecorating, and he claims he doesn’t have the vocabulary to describe it. It’s clean and simple, fresh and unfussy–although it largely was all that before the remodel.

The name change is brilliant, and in hindsight, inevitable. “Fillmore,” in addition to carrying a vague suggestion about food quantity, if not quality, has a neo-nerdy hipster sound–it evokes an unfortunately named president (Millard? Really?) who is virtually synonymous with forgettable administrations. But Dexterites know that the Fillmore family is a legitimate part of the town’s early history. Millard’s brother Calvin, a carpenter and farmer, built Gordon Hall–and the building that is now the Fillmore Bar & Grill. (More on the family history can be found in Grace Shackman’s 2009 Observer article on the 1873 Fillmore reunion–search for “Fillmore” at AnnArborObserver.com)

Eventually, says O’Brien, the Fillmore will serve lunch: “I thought we would be open for lunch by now, but the dinner business has been a little busier than we anticipated.” He doesn’t have the staff to spare for a lunch shift: “It’s a good problem to have. We’re working on hiring.”

Fillmore Bar & Grill, 7954 Ann Arbor St., Dexter. (734) 426-3727. Sun.-Thurs. 3-9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 3-10 p.m. fillmorebarandgrill.com