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Bagger Dave’s
****
Out of a possible five
$$
The Journal Gazette

Bagger Dave’s does burgers justice

During my first trip to Bagger Dave’s Burger Tavern on Dupont Road, I knew I was going to like the place as soon as I saw two things – the large variety of burgers and the impressive beer list.

And, honestly, if you are opening a burger tavern, those two things are pretty important.

My favorite burger was the big sloppy Bacon BBQ, which I initially had stacked with two 4-ounce patties.

By the time I made my second visit, the company had changed its menu so burgers are now available with either a 4-ounce or an 8-ounce patty.

The meat was flavorful and very juicy – hence the sloppiness – and there was just the right amount of barbecue sauce to kiss the thick, crisp bacon. It also had sweet grilled onions, lettuce and tomato on a nicely toasted brioche bun.

Another nice addition to that recent menu change was that cooking temperatures can be specified. That was not the case with the Bacon BBQ burger, but those patties were properly medium.

I asked for my Great American burger medium-rare and it arrived as such. I liked the thicker, meatier 8-ounce patty more, so the change was a good one. This burger was as straightforward as it gets with American cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard and mayo.

The best part was how fresh and crisp the lettuce was, and how ripe and tasty the tomato was, especially considering the time of year.

The freshness of those burger toppings made it no surprise that the greens in the side salad were stellar. It was a big salad and had pretty uneventful toppings – croutons, chopped tomatoes, carrot and cheddar cheese – but those greens really stood out.

Not only were they fresh and crisp, they had a lot of flavor, which is hardly ever the case with the bagged greens most places dole out.

The two non-beef sandwiches I tried were also worth having again, and one would have probably been the best thing Bagger Dave’s offered if it did have a slab of beef on it.

The thick sourdough toast really made the egg, bacon and cheddar sandwich worth getting. I can only imagine how good the buttery toast, runny egg, that same thick, crisp bacon and the gooey cheese would have been if it just had a burger in there, too. There were no egg-topped burgers on the menu, but I am going to pay whatever extra I have to next time to have a patty thrown in this sandwich.

The Fiery Bleu Buffalo Turkey burger is the only burger still offered stacked. It was well seasoned, but its Buffalo garlic sauce was not too spicy. It could have used a little more bleu cheese, but still satisfied.

Most of the sides at Bagger Dave’s also satisfied. Dave’s Sweet Potato Chips, which I had as part of the Mix ‘N’ Match appetizer with fresh-cut fries and two dipping sauces, were just right, with the caramel dip being the one to go for.

The Santa Fe Sloppy Nachos were OK with the tortilla chips being the stars. They were topped with Sloppy Dave’s BBQ – a ground beef sloppy joe mix that was very sweet – shredded cheddar, mozzarella, lettuce, pico de gallo, jalapenos and creamy Santa Fe Chipotle Sauce. It really needed the jalapenos and spicy sauce to temper the sweetness.

The tortilla chips had a flavorful dusting of salt and spices that gave them plenty of flavor on their own. I would pass on the nachos next time and get the plain order of chips, which includes pico de gallo, and ask for the Santa Fe sauce, which is an option.

The only dishes I really disliked at Bagger Dave’s involved macaroni. The “Handcrafted Artisan Mac ‘N’ Cheese” side offerings – all made with twisted cavatappi pasta – were poorly constructed, dry and bland.

The regular version, the Twisted Mac ‘N’ Cheese, had sharp cheddar, Swiss and gouda and was topped with parmesan and Asian-style breadcrumbs. It was baked to brown the toppings, but it had no creamy cheese sauce or butter as far as I could tell. It was basically plain pasta with cheese that got way too dry in the oven.

The Chili Mac – only available in entrée size – had the same noodles with gouda and cheddar topped with the restaurant’s turkey-black bean chili and jalapenos. The chili, however, was strained too much or just lacked any broth, so it was too dry.

The Smokin’ Hot Mac ‘N’ Cheese was a little better since it also had some of the Santa Fe Sauce in addition to jalapenos, pico de gallo, bacon and cheese, but mine must have spent too much time in the oven because the cheese on top actually crunched.

It took a lot of beer to help me down the dry pasta, but that wasn’t an issue here. There were several craft brews of all varieties on tap, and there was a four-beer sampler, which I took advantage of.

Bagger Dave’s also featured its own specialty sodas. The black cherry cream was particularly good as a float.

I also loved the thick, rich and quite tall Reese’s peanut butter cup milkshake. It was better for dessert than the Sinfully Sweet Brownie Sundae.

The toppings – chocolate syrup, caramel, Reese’s cups, malt powder and whipped cream – were fine on the sundae but the brownie on the bottom was too dense and kind of hard on the outside, almost like it was old.

Next time I will dodge the pasta and pass on dessert. But I will not be passing on another visit to Bagger Dave’s.

In addition to all of the great food, the service was exemplary, especially when it came to children. My servers both squatted down next to each one of them when taking their orders. They asked them specifically what they wanted in terms of toppings for sandwiches and really made them feel like important customers.

The kids, and I, also loved the looks of the place. The toy train that circles the top of the dining room, passing through holes in the wall separating the bar area, was neat.

But even neater was the way Bagger Dave’s incorporated historic photos – courtesy of the History Center and Allen County Public Library – and little touches like signs bearing the name of Indiana rail companies into its modern tavern styling that featured cherry wood and faux marble-topped tables.

The bar room was best with its tall, riveted, imitation leather-covered, barstool-style chairs that were plenty wide with backs so they were as comfortable as regular chairs. It also was not inundated with TVs, so it made it feel more formal than the norm.

Restaurant: Bagger Dave’s

Address: 2886 E. Dupont Road

Phone: 440-2076

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday and Monday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Santa Fe Sloppy Nachos ($6.50), mix ‘n’ match ($5.75), tuna melt ($6.75), beer sampler ($6), Great American burger ($5.25 for 4 ounce or $6.75 for 8 ounce), Egg, Bacon and Cheddar ($6.75), chili mac ($9), Bacon BBQ burger ($6.75 or $8.25), Fiery Bleu Buffalo Turkey Burger ($5.75 or $7.25), brownie sundae ($7), shake ($4.75)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (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).

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.

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