What I used to not like about Dicky’s Wild Hare is what I found to be its best asset this time.
The onetime Munchie Emporium, which still has many links to that storied Fort Wayne franchise, is as much a bar – if not more – as it is a restaurant, and I found that off-putting when I took my young kids there years ago.
Between the noise level and the type of crowd, it just wasn’t a place I frequented. But now that my kids are older, I find it to be a place my whole family enjoys and a place I will be heading back to soon.
Yes, it was still noisy, but that simply helps mask any noise your rambunctious youngsters might create when dining out. During one visit, it was free jukebox night and my kids loved running up to pick and play their favorites – often my least favorite, such as “Gangnam Style.” And when the credits on that jukebox ran out, the manager was there with a smile and she got the machine filled right back up.
Add in a nice little pizza buffet where even my picky eater was accommodated with promptly made plain cheese pies, the funky atmosphere it has always had and great service from the wait staff, and we had a blast. Even though the buffet was not in the cards for me, the many smoked items on Dicky’s menu kept me smiling, too.
Dicky’s uses big outdoor smokers that were once owned by Bruce Marshall, who created heavenly barbecue at his much-maligned Chuckwagon BBQ on East State Boulevard before his untimely death in 2007. And Dicky’s is doing his legacy proud.
The best smoked items I had were the chicken wings. The menu said they were marinated 24 hours before hitting the hickory smoke and then flash-fried before serving. They were decent sized, the frying gave the skin some crispness and the smoke was prominent. The time in the smoker didn’t keep the meat from being moist and delicious. The best sauce I had on them – splitting the sauces on a 10-wing order was no problem – was the hot barbecue, which had a touch of sweetness and a profound spice that lingered a bit from what I believe was chipotle pepper.
The brisket on my Chicago Beef Brisket sandwich was so good, I almost wished I had just gotten a brisket dinner. The moist beef had less smoke flavor than the ribs, but it was so tender and scrumptious, it created one of the best Chicago-style Italian beef sandwiches I have had in these parts. The meat was topped with Swiss cheese, fresh tomatoes and hot pickled giardiniera peppers and came on a hoagie roll with a side of au jus, which I didn’t even bother using.
The ribs at Dicky’s were also worth getting. They had a nice texture, were moist and quite tasty. They blew away the rib tips, which were black on the outside and had an off-putting charred flavor.
The char masked the smoky goodness the full-sized ribs had. The meat on those tips was still juicy, but I just couldn’t get past the char. Upon seeing I did not eat them, my server inquired and apologized, and when I got my bill, those tips had been removed from it. That proper service and the quality of the wings, ribs and brisket made it so I would give Dicky’s tips another chance in case I just got a bad batch.
The first appetizer I tried really brought me back to the old Munchie days – the homemade crab cakes. These three sizable cakes were perfectly browned until crisp, were full of stringy crabmeat and were flecked with green onions and herbs. They didn’t need a drop of the jalapeno tartar sauce they came with, and the red beans and rice on the side were perfect. The beans were big and sort of meaty and cooked al dente, and the rice was seasoned well with hot Cajun spices.
Adding to the feelings of nostalgia, Dicky’s also offers “Shaggy Snacks” – zesty seasoned steak fries with a side of cucumber sauce that were known as “Scooby Snacks” at Munchie Emporium – and flatbreads, which were just like the “Unwraps” at the old spot.
Having had them several times over, I opted for things a little outside the norm in addition to the barbecue.
The Seafood Trio seemed risky but proved to be decent. The star was a nicely browned and seasoned grilled tilapia filet that flaked away with just a touch of the fork and was cooked to moist perfection. That same tilapia made Dicky’s fish tacos worth trying, too.
The jumbo shrimp – which I asked for battered and fried instead of grilled – were also spot on, and the only flaw was the bowl of mussels. The shellfish were topped with shredded parmesan and were steamed to have the proper texture, but the flavor was a bit off. Had a crab cake or two replaced the mussels in this trio, it would have blown me away.
I did enjoy the fresh, crispy coleslaw I had on the side of the trio. It was creamy but not overly dressed, and just sweet enough so the flavor of the fresh cabbage, red onions and carrots was still present. If you like coleslaw, you will love Dicky’s.
I didn’t love that most of the desserts were not available when I made my visits. The only one I could try was the bread pudding and it was decent – heavy and rich with chewy caramelized bits scattered throughout the custard-soaked bread so it was texturally pleasing as well as decadent. The only drawback was that it was served on a tiny side plate, which made it clumsy.
It made me wish I was a kid, because they all got whipped cream- and chocolate syrup-topped freshly baked chocolate chip cookies gratis with their meals.
It was just the icing on the cake – or cream on the cookie, in this case – to prove that Dicky’s Wild Hare was, indeed, a great place for the family.
Restaurant: Dicky’s Wild Hare
Address: 2910 Maplecrest Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Smoked wings ($8.50), crab cakes ($13), Seafood Trio ($15), ribs (3-bone basket $8; half-slab dinner $15), rib tips ($7 basket; $11 dinner), Chicago Beef Brisket ($9.50)
Rating breakdown: Food: * 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).