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Eddie Merlot’s lounge
*** 1/2
Out of a possible five
$$$$

Dessert melts away too-formal worries

When Eddie Merlot’s announced it had revamped its lounge menu, it inspired me to check out that lounge.

The most upscale of Fort Wayne’s upscale restaurants, Eddie Merlot’s isn’t an everyday place for most, and I hoped to get a new perspective by dining in that lounge and choosing dishes from its menu that are a little less taxing on the wallet.

But what I discovered was that the lounge is just as formal as the main dining area and that the lounge menu is sort of an afterthought, thrown into the regular menu.

And although it isn’t really a place you can let your hair down, the menu does offer little tastes of Eddie’s fantastic food in unique forms.

Take the meatloaf sliders, for example. Prime ground beef is formed into these three little loaf “burgers” with peppers and onions and is topped with jalapeno pesto, crispy onion straws and pepper jack cheese. They had a nice little kick and I could have easily gobbled down more with a few cold beers.

Speaking of beer, the lack of any draft brews was an oddity. I expected to find some upscale offerings on tap and never imagined I would find nothing on tap. In true frou-frou form, however, I was offered Perrier instead of tap water. First time that has happened in a bar.

The prime beef sliders took a backseat to the meatloaf. They were flavorful and tender, but there were only two and they were more expensive. The Eddie’s lounge menu is tiered with tapas-style appetizers ranging from $6.50 to $8.50 with $4 sides, $6 martinis and $5 wine or cocktails.

Standard-sized prime burgers were also available at a heftier price. The Eddie’s Strip Burger was confusing but tremendous. There is little description of anything on the lounge menu and this burger was said to be “shaved prime New York strip, grilled onions, peppadew peppers and Gruyere cheese.”

I assumed that meant only New York strip when, in fact, it was a big burger topped with the steak and the other ingredients. It was a meat-lover’s dream.

The chicken and waffles and confit chicken wings would have been better combined because they were so-so on their own. The wings were crispy and nicely seasoned with grated Parmesan and black pepper, but the meat was not as succulent and unctuous as I expected from something confited.

The chicken strips with the waffles were too thin and not seasoned well. And there were only two to go with three mini waffles.

A dining companion called the dish “cute” but I preferred “chintzy.” The waffles were fine, but there was not enough syrup, and what syrup there was had nearly solidified on the plate when they were served.

If Eddie’s served the wings with the waffles and served the syrup warm in a ramekin, it might have a winner.

I loved the tempura green beans, which were crispy and fresh-tasting with a silky, hard-to-stop-eating wasabi cream sauce. But the Parmesan truffle fries were not up to snuff.

They were covered with plenty of shredded fresh Parmesan, but they were not topped with diced truffles and I could not detect any truffle oil flavor. When I inquired, my server said the fries were “not as good as they used to be.” She also said they were frozen, not fresh-cut anymore, and that she also noticed a real lack of truffle flavor since they changed.

Being stingy with an expensive ingredient like a truffle or truffle oil is sad for a place like Eddie Merlot’s, but using frozen fries is nothing short of egregious.

Speaking of egregious, I witnessed something here that I initially laughed at, but that bothered me more as I thought about it. As I said, this lounge is way too formal. The servers came around and brushed crumbs off the table in true fine-dining fashion.

A man in a suit was helping remove used plates during the brushing-off process and grabbed a knife from the left side of a dining companion’s plate. I figured he was going to replace it with a clean utensil.

No, he simply felt he needed to move it to the other side of the plate – the proper side – for her.

Awkward? Extremely. But what troubled me more was that he handled the flatware at all, which was a cleanliness issue.

I also wished the folks at Eddie Merlot’s concentrated more on service basics instead of worrying about crumbs and a misplaced knife. Although drink orders were taken promptly, the wait to order food was way too long. And, although both servers asked whether I wanted food brought when it was ready – which I chose – or all at once, both failed to deliver.

Dessert put me in a much better mood. The only dessert on the lounge menu was a red velvet cupcake, which was moist and scrumptious with a rich, pink-colored cream cheese mousse inside. So I had to go off the lounge list for the rest, which was a brilliant move.

If you only have one dessert, have the vanilla cognac brownie. Not only is it decadent, covered with hot fudge, pecans and ice cream, it comes with a show as it is also topped with Navan vanilla cognac that is flambéed tableside.

If you can have two, try the relatively new chocolate caramel sea-salt cake. What is unique about this is that the salt is not in the caramel, it is in the cake, so you get a punch of it with every bite.

It made the end of both of my visits to the Eddie Merlot’s lounge bright spots and made me willing to go back.

Even if I am not allowed to let loose and put my knife on the left.

Restaurant: Eddie Merlot’s lounge

Address: 1502 Illinois Road S.

Phone: 459-2222

Hours: 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 to midnight Friday and Saturday, 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: No

Menu: Meatloaf sliders ($6.50), beef sliders ($8.50), strip burger ($14), tempura green beans ($4), chicken and waffles ($6.50), confit wings ($7.50), cupcake ($5), vanilla cognac brownie ($17), sea-salt cake ($9)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (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.

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