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Main Street Bistro
Out of a possible five
The Journal Gazette

Cocktails, setting add right sizzle

One of the city’s most stunning spaces recently found a new tenant, and that new tenant – Main Street Bistro & Martini Lounge – has made the former Park Place even more beautiful.

Owner Todd Smith, who also owns Trolley Steaks & Seafood and nightclubs YOLO, Early Birds and Flashbacks, said he wanted to accentuate the beautiful brass and cherry wood that was Park Place’s. He added a color-changing wave wall in the bar, new lighting, a lounge area and wine wall. So that classy, special occasion-worthy restaurant now has a hip, modern edge.

Specializing in cocktails was a nice twist, too. Main Street has an impressive array of drinks not just counting the martinis. Yes, they made a great dirty martini, but there are 14 regional craft beers on tap, and, among the cocktails, I would recommend the Maker’s Mark Hi-Ball – bourbon mixed with lemon sour, ginger ale and a dash of Peychaud’s Bitters – or the fruity, refreshing Bourbon Blackberry Collins – Jim Beam muddled with blackberries and lemon juice topped with club soda.

The menu is built with the cocktails in mind and included smaller options – pizzas, several appetizers, soups and sandwiches – in addition to classic entrées.

Not everything was fabulous, but there were three items – each a different course – that will likely land on my best-of list.

The best appetizer was the mahi-mahi bites. Cubes of the meaty fish were presented like seared tuna appetizers, accompanied by an Asian slaw and soy dipping sauce. It was an inventive dish that was a nice break from tuna, which I love but am kind of over given it is so commonplace. The medium-rare mahi was seasoned with Cajun spice, and the sauce added sweetness that was cut perfectly by the slaw.

The best main course was a simple pepperoni pizza.

Prepared in a wood-fired oven that Smith had installed, this pizza had a perfect crust that was crisp on the bottom and soft around the edges. The sauce was just a little sweet but brought some acid, too. And the impressive looking baseball-sized, imported pepperoni slices were fantastic.

Main Street’s Signature Pizza was a barbecued chicken pie and it was so-so. It was not at all upscale and nowhere near as good as the pepperoni. I have no idea why this was the restaurant’s signature pizza instead of that pepperoni, which Smith said he considers his best and, in fact, is the first one he recommends.

The Main Street Bistro Peanut Butter Cup was one of the best desserts I have ever had, and it deserved its status as the restaurant’s signature ending. A glass was layered with vanilla ice cream, devil’s food cake crumbles, chocolate ganache and peanut butter mousse. It was heavenly. The mousse was light and airy so the peanut butter flavor was not too strong, the cake held up amid all the gooey goodness, and I wanted to lick the glass clean.

Main Street also claims to have “Fort Wayne’s Best Cheesecake.” So I asked my server why it is so good and whether it is made in-house. She was elusive, saying only it was made on site, but that she could not tell me anymore.

The cheesecake was, indeed, special. It had the perfect light texture – obviously not frozen – was not overly sweet and tasted of cream cheese, and had a classic graham cracker crust. The Oreo version was also great with that same creamy texture, a lot of chocolate and cookies and a cookie crust.

When I asked Smith about these wonderful cakes, he, too, was elusive, but offered this:

“Let’s just say I have a mom who makes the best cheesecakes come in and make them.”

He said it is not his mom, but I wish I knew whose mom it was because she makes a killer cheesecake.

A couple of soups were also high points. The French onion and chili – Smith’s grandfather’s recipe that has been on several of his menus – were straightforward and could not disappoint anyone.

The first soup I tried was more confusing than it was enjoyable, but that was the server’s fault. She mentioned the French onion and said there was “some kind of smoked gouda soup and I think a pumpkin or something,” also available. I asked her to find out exactly what it was and she returned a few minutes later, still not knowing. I gave up and took a chance by telling her I would try the smoked gouda soup.

This orange soup was thin and rather sweet with little if any smoky flavor. It did have cheese on top, and some bits of what I thought were carrot. I finally demanded to know what it was.

After quizzing the kitchen, she informed me there was no smoked gouda or pumpkin soup. The soup of the day was a smoked gouda and sweet potato. So those bits were sweet potato, not carrot.

My service experiences were night and day. The first time, during the soup fiasco, my server knew nothing about the menu, could not tell me what kind of stove was used to cook the pizzas, failed to bring necessary utensils with dessert and coffee, and there were several lulls in service, especially at the end when I waited nearly a half-hour to receive my bill. And I had to ask twice to get it.

During my second visit, the server knew the menu and able to make recommendations, she was on point with every course and was entertaining without being overbearing.

Smith said he has already hired a new chef and new management since opening less than six months ago, so, perhaps, my second visit came after things were tightened up.

When it came to the “Main Plates,” the results were mixed. Main Street’s rib-eye was a solid choice. It was a nice, fatty cut of beef, was perfectly seared and cooked to be tender and juicy; the house seasoning – which I chose as my accent over the bourbon-vanilla-coffee rub – let the beef flavor shine through.

The Applewood Pork Rib Chops were a failure. These bone-in chops had nice grill marks but spent too much time on that grill because they were tough and dry. They also needed a glaze or sauce to lift them. I left one of them untouched and did not want a to-go box.

The only other real disappointment was the Canadian Poutine. It was enticing given I have not seen the gravy-covered fries offered elsewhere. The fries were crisp, and there was plenty of gooey, melted cheese and tender, stringy braised pork shoulder, but the gravy was rather boring. It was one-note and tasted of the pork, but nothing else. It needed more seasoning or perhaps a touch of sweetness – kind of like a demi-glace – to round out the dish.

But those kind of small flaws were not enough to keep me from heading back to Main Street Bistro & Martini Bar soon. There was too much right about the place to even consider writing it off.

Restaurant: Main Street Bistro & Martini Bar

Address: 200 E. Main St.

Phone: 420-8633

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday; 4 p.m. to midnight p.m. Saturday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: No

Menu: Mahi bites ($12), poutine ($9), soup of day ($4 cup; $6 bowl), French onion crock ($7), pepperoni pizza ($9), signature pizza ($12), pork chops ($28), rib-eye ($29), blackberry Collins ($9), hi-ball ($9)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (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).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.