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  • The family room at Ziffle's Rib Bar in Georgetown Square.

  • Sausage roll from Ziffle's Rib Bar in Georgetown Square.

  • A lunch special half cobb salad from Ziffle's Rib Bar in Georgetown Square.

  • Pepperjack cheese bites at Ziffle's Rib Bar in Georgetown Square.

  • The artichoke and spinach bites at Ziffle's Rib Bar in Georgetown Square were great and tasted just like the popular dip.

  • Ziffle's Rib Bar in Georgetown Square.

  • The Hog Trough of fresh-cut fries topped with pork, cheese and coleslaw at Ziffle's Rib Bar in Georgetown Square.

  • Chicken wings from Ziffle's Rib Bar in Georgetown Square.

  • The famous ribs from Ziffle's Rib Bar in Georgetown Square.

  • A pizza topped with house-made sausage at Ziffle's Rib Bar in Georgetown Square.

  • Artichoke and spinach bites at Ziffle's Rib Bar in Georgetown Square.

Sunday, May 07, 2017 1:00 am

Slow cooked, not smoked, still makes good rib

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

Ziffle's

**1/2

Out of a possible five

$$$

At least once a year, I get drawn into this debate between friends: “Is Ziffle's Rib Bar any good?”

Barbecue lovers are passionate, and the reason for debate about this longtime Fort Wayne staple boils down to the way the food is prepared.

With smokers popping up all over the city these days, there is no denying the popularity of southern smoked barbecue. But that doesn't mean there is anything wrong with a place that slow-cooks its barbecue without burning wood, like Ziffle's.

If you are over 30 and grew up in Indiana, the first rack of ribs you had at a restaurant was probably not smoked. It may have been at Ziffle's, the Rib Room or – as it was in my case – Damon's.

So I don't even really consider the topic worth debating. It's like trying to decide between New York and Chicago pizza. They are so different, there is no clear answer.

So, yes, I really enjoyed my ribs at Ziffle's. They were meaty, tender, juicy and perfectly glazed with the restaurant's signature sauce. They weren't as smoky as smoked ribs, of course, but the sauce charred just a little in the oven around the edges and gave them a little of that essence.

Have I had ribs I liked better? Sure. But would I have them again? Absolutely. Would I recommend them? Yes, but I would be sure to mention the lack of smoke.

So my friends can keep debating, and they'll get no commitment from me.

Commitment is something Ziffle's isn't lacking. The foyer is always packed, and there are lines leading from the takeout window every weekend at its Georgetown Plaza home. But it's not just the ribs that folks come for.

The chicken wings may have been my favorite find. The skin on these sizable wings was nice and crispy, even though they arrived slathered in sauce. I recommend them with medium sauce – which was more savory than the sweet mild and with very little heat – and then asking for a container of spicy to add to your liking.

Pairing the wings and ribs with a side of what may be the best fresh-cut french fries in the city is the way to go. The deftly seasoned fries are great when used to sop up some of that barbecue sauce. However, if you don't want sauce on yours, ask for them in a separate basket, because they will get a lot of sauce on them if you don't.

The rest of my venture had its ups and downs.

Ziffle's pizza is also a great way to go. And, yes, there are barbecue versions. The crust on my sausage pie had a really nice flavor with yeast at the forefront. The crust is hand-tossed style and was not at all crispy, so it takes two hands to hold one of the drooping slices.

The sausage, which is made in house, was the star. It was seasoned to be somewhat mild, and was pretty lean so my pizza didn't get too greasy. The flavor was perfect.

The greatness of the sausage made the sausage roll at Ziffle's a disappointment, however. It wasn't the sausage's fault, though. The big roll had too much pizza sauce inside, so the crust was soggy and the sausage didn't have a chance to stand out.

There was another great debate at Ziffle's over a couple of tasty appetizers. The only way the pepper jack cheese bites and the artichoke and spinach bites could be better is if there was a combo basket with both.

The crispy cheese bites had just the right kick of pepper heat. Get them with the rich, creamy, house-made ranch dressing and you won't have a complaint. The artichoke and spinach bites came with marinara but didn't need it. The inside of the crispy balls tasted just like the dip and didn't need a condiment.

As good as the fries are as a side, they didn't wow me in the Hog Trough – an indulgent creation featuring a basket of fries topped with cheese, pulled pork and coleslaw. The cheese was shredded melted cheese – an oozing sauce would have been better – and there wasn't near enough of it. The creamy, sweet slaw was way too runny. I asked for my slaw on the side so I could temper it. Had I not, those fries would've been soggy.

The worst part was the “pulled” pork. It didn't appear to be stringy and actually pulled; it looked more like chopped pork. And every piece was tough and dry.

I told myself I was not going to try chicken at Ziffle's after watching cooks take it in and out of microwaves through the window out front, but I did get some on my cobb salad. I had it with that spot-on homemade ranch dressing and needed several cups of it on this big salad, which made for a very filling lunch. The lunch special comes with a half salad, too, so I cannot imagine how filling a full-size one would be.

It had a ton of bleu cheese and bacon crumbles on top of its iceberg lettuce, along with plenty of chunks of chicken breast. Mine was missing the menu-promised egg, however, and had just three red onion rings, one cucumber slice and one paper-thin tomato slice. Nearly half of the bread stick that came with it was also hard and stale.

The coolest things about Ziffle's mini-mall space are that big kitchen window out front and the concrete pig statue that sits outside the door. The inside has basic tavern decor with flashy beer signs and the like. The front family room is a little better in terms of looks than the back bar room, which lacks natural light and feels sort of like a basement.

There were no service issues at all. Given that this place has been around and has had a faithful following since 1987, the folks there know how to take care of their customers.

Restaurant: Ziffle's Rib Bar

Address: 6340 E. State Blvd.

Phone: 493-1222

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Cheese bites ($7), spinach and artichoke bites ($7), wings ($9 for 10; $13 for 16; $20 for 25), Hog Trough ($12), ribs ($25 full slab; $13 half; $10 quarter), sausage roll ($12), pizza ($10 for 14-inch; plus $1 per topping), cobb salad lunch special ($8.45)

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

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.