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Red River
* 1/2
Out of a possible 5

Endings are sweet at Marriott eatery

Things have changed at this restaurant, which was once a hot ticket.

Why else would Red River Steakhouse in the Fort Wayne Marriott on Washington Center Road be so severely understaffed on the Friday and Saturday nights I dined there?

And understaffed despite not being busy.

Even though there were only about five parties seated during both visits, there were only two servers working and they couldn’t keep up. During one visit, they finally got help from a manager, but it came way too late.

Wasn’t too long ago that customers had to wait to get a table at Red River, but not anymore. And, based on my experiences and the poor quality of the food, I know why it was so slow.

There were some bright spots, however.

The best came last as all of the desserts shined. The best by far was the Koko Moko Pie, which is made with Edy’s coffee ice cream in a coconut-pecan crust and topped with chocolate and Kahlua sauces and whipped cream. It is impossible not to like with the nutty, chewy crust and creamy ice cream and that kick of liquor flavor from the Kahlua.

The bread pudding was also fantastic with a similar boozy essence from its warm caramel rum sauce. And although not as complex, the Strawberries and Cream was as fun as it was tasty with 12 whole fresh strawberries and a warm chocolate sauce and whipped cream to dip them in.

I also loved a couple of the first courses – the Chop Chop salad and the cheesy potato soup. The salad of mixed greens, shredded cheddar, egg, tomatoes, bleu cheese crumbles and bacon bits was heavily dressed in Red River’s “special” dressing, which was a ranch of sorts. The soup, a Red River “signature” selection, was straightforward but tasty.

Only two entrées found favor.

The pan-seared grouper was lightly dredged and perfectly fried to be just a little crisp around the edges. It was covered in an herb beurre blanc sauce that was more creamy than herby, but really worked well with the moist, flaky fish and a little fresh lemon.

The grilled double-cut pork chops were gorgeous with crisscross grill marks cutting into the shiny maple barbecue sauce glaze. The thick slabs of pork were tender and juicy and the sauce, which I could have used more of, was perfect.

The herb-smashed potatoes and Quattro Macaroni and Cheese were both great side choices. The mac and cheese had so much cheese that strings of it stretched out with every scoop from its ramekin.

The rest of the food flopped.

The worst were the Bang-Bang Shrimp, which were perfectly coated in batter and fried until crispy, but the sweet chili aioli enrobing them was thick, heavy and lacked chili flavor. I would best describe it as hot mayonnaise.

The BBQ Bacon-wrapped Scallops were drenched in a caramelized sauce, but it was way too sweet and there was no way it was going to make up for the undercooked shellfish and rubbery bacon.

I was served a practically raw filet mignon, but the most disappointing steak was the cilantro and lime marinated rib-eye. This 12-ounce cut of well-marbled beef was cooked to perfection, but the vibrant citrus and floral cilantro flavor I had hoped for was MIA. I could barely see any cilantro on the steak, and it was so bland I had to reach for the salt and pepper.

The only more disappointing entrée was one Red River should have been able to impress with. The “specialties” menu features pulled pork, barbecued ribs and smoked brisket, and I was able to sample all three in a Signature Combo. The pulled pork was OK, as was the sweet barbecue sauce, but the ribs and brisket were mushy and had no smoky flavor. And it was all cold by the time it reached the table.

Getting anything to the table was a challenge because of the abysmal service, which included:

•No butter with the complementary rolls, which I was only given during one visit, and no butter or sour cream with a baked potato. I had to ask twice for both.

•My party was never checked on after entrées were served, forcing me to walk to the bar to get someone to refill drinks.

•Had to find my server again to order dessert even after asking for a dessert menu (a little tip: If I ask for a dessert menu, I am probably getting dessert).

And there were a couple of little things that I might have overlooked had it not been for the other snafus:

•I was disappointed a delicious-sounding peppermint stick ice cream pie was no longer available. Apparently I was given an old winter holiday menu … in September.

•Nobody removed used items from the table. Empty soup cups had to be moved (but weren’t removed) by a server for desserts to be placed on the crowded table.

•In spite of only a fourth of the restaurant being filled, all of the parties were bunched together in the same section, and it was so loud I had to shout for anyone in my party to hear me.

It was clear the manager was aware of the service issues. He apologized for his staff “not being very attentive” and said my desserts were on the house one night.

I appreciated his honesty and willingness to make up for things, … until I was given my bill. Yep, the desserts were still on it.

Just par for the course, I guess.

Restaurant: Red River Steakhouse

Address: 305 E. Washington Center Road

Phone: 484-0411

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday and Friday; 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Bang-Bang Shrimp ($10.95), scallops ($10.95), 3-item Signature Combo ($29.95), pork chops ($21.95), grouper ($19.95), marinated rib-eye ($21.95), Koko Moko Pie ($5.95), bread pudding ($5.95)

Rating breakdown: Food: * (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 0 (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.