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Out of a possible five
One of the best cheesecakes restaurant critic Ryan DuVall has ever had; the pistachio at Henry's on Main Street.

Henry’s so much more than ‘bar food’

Though it sits just across the street from the newspaper on West Main Street, I sometimes overlook Henry's.

When you have been to a place as many times as I have been there, you sort of underestimate and undervalue what it offers. I have long lauded Henry's for having the best burger in Fort Wayne and usually include it on my lists of best bars to eat at.

But I haven't really practiced what I preached because before my recent visits, it had been awhile since I actually dined there. I have been there a few times recently after deadline, but let's just say I wasn't dining.

Given how great the burgers are, it should come as little surprise that Monday meatloaf night is a great night to visit Henry's. Not only is Monday a traditionally slow night for restaurants, so you won't be dealing with a crowded bar, but the meatloaf is probably as good as your mom's if not better.

The recipe is pretty straightforward like most moms' and is topped with a tangy ketchup-based sauce. And for my money that is the only thing a meatloaf should be topped with so don't even start suggesting gravy. This meatloaf had the perfect flavor, perfect texture, perfect amount of onion and seasoning and was just super. And it was perfectly paired with a pile of creamy, cheesy, buttery cheddar mashed potatoes.

The meatloaf is made by longtime Henry's employee Greg Wolf, who takes a lot of pride in it, does not share his secrets and jokingly tells people he is a member of the “meatloaf mafia.” He grinds the meat in house from New York strip, prime rib and Delmonico steak trimmings. And when he is on vacation or off on a Monday, my server said the regulars notice because it is not the same.

The meatloaf's brilliance was nothing new to me, but there was one new twist I was not aware of at Henry's. One of the restaurant's bartenders is making from-scratch desserts, and one of those desserts blew me away.

The pistachio cheesecake was like no other cheesecake I have had before. It had a light green color with finely ground pistachios throughout and a buttery graham cracker crust. There were so many pistachios in this cheesecake that it was gritty, and that was a good thing. It really smelled like the little green nuts, and the pistachio flavor exploded with each bite.

The chocolate-peanut butter cheesecake with white chocolate frosting was also fantastic. The base was dark and rich, the frosting was light by comparison and this dessert also had a graham cracker crust.

Another new wrinkle was the al fresco dining option, which the restaurant has had for a couple of years now, but I had never tried. The roped off “patio” is basically a sidewalk on the Fulton Street side of the building with steel mesh tables and chairs scattered about. The sidewalk has been leveled on one side of the patio, but the other side is a bit downhill, so stay on the Main Street side for the most even experience.

The service outside was fantastic. The one thing that over the years has been a crapshoot at Henry's has been the service, but during my recent visits it was exemplary. Not only were the servers prompt, they were friendly and amicable – which was not always the case in the past. When sitting outside, my server checked back regularly, which can often be an issue when dining al fresco.

I did have to dive back into an old favorite when it came to appetizers. The Black Bean Nachos Deluxe are some of the best nachos in the city, which, as even my server chuckled and pointed out, is really odd considering Henry's is not a place you would ever think could do South-of-the-border fare well.

Henry's buries its triangular tortilla chips under diced red onions and tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, bicolored cheese, jalapenos, black olives, seasoned ground beef, stewed black beans and sour cream. It also comes with a side of some of the freshest-tasting, chunkiest salsa you will find anywhere. The meat is really saucy, but not overly spiced, but the beans are the real star. There are whole beans mixed with mashed ones, and they have the perfect amount of soupiness to coat the chips without making them soggy.

They are a perfect starter, a great light dinner or – of course – a great accompaniment for a couple of cold offerings from the bar.

Like the nachos, the featured Faroe Island salmon seemed a bit out of left field and is something I don't think I would opt for at most bars. But, then again, Henry's isn't your typical bar.

The salmon could not have been cooked better. It was flaky and moist with a nice natural flavor. It was topped with a dill compound butter, which melted down over it, adding a decadent sheen, and all I added was a little squeeze of lemon.

I preceded the salmon with another seafood selection that I would recommend, the coconut shrimp appetizer. Five plump, juicy shrimp were coated in a savory coconut breading and paired with a sweet orange marmalade for dipping. The shrimp were well fried to be dark brown, so they were crunchy, and I liked how the breading was not sweet because the shrimp's natural sweetness and just a hint of the marmalade was enough.

The daily soups are usually a good choice as a starter, but one was anything but good this time.

The Texas chili made with leftover prime rib was decent, and the mushroom bisque was outstanding, but the second bisque I tried, the vegan asparagus soup, was inedible. It looked great with its murky, dark-green color, but it was salty beyond belief, and I sent it back after two bites. My server immediately apologized and replaced it with a side of coleslaw.

And that slaw was great – sweet, creamy and crunchy – and I would recommend it over the side salad, which had fresh ingredients but was sort of boring with just red onion, tomatoes, a pile of Parmesan cheese and croutons.

The only real uninspiring dish was the New York strip. I chose the 10-ounce “hotel cut” and it was OK. It was topped with an herb compound butter, which was a nice touch, but the steak was a bit tough and really not worth having again given the other choices at Henry's.

But whether I choose Henry's again is not even a question, and it is not just because it is right across the street. It is because it is one of the best restaurants downtown not just one of the best bars.

And, honestly, it is because I, too, consider myself a member of the meatloaf mafia.

Restaurant: Henry's

Address: 536 W. Main St.

Phone: 426-0531

Hours: 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. Monday through Saturday; 4 to 11 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: No

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: No, 21-and-over only

Menu: Coconut shrimp ($9.99), meatloaf ($9.95), salmon ($16.99), black bean nachos deluxe ($7.99), N.Y. strip ($18.99), cheesecake ($5.50)

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.