No matter what they call it – Munchie's, Lucky's or the Lucky Moose – there is no denying the restaurant along Dupont Road has a strong following.
The Lucky Turtle Grill, which is the restaurant's name, and the Lucky Moose Lounge, its bar, are the creations of storied Fort Wayne restaurateur Mark Melchi, who, you guessed it, was one of the originators of the now defunct Munchie Emporiums. And that was once the name of this spot many years ago.
After it was a Munchie, it was Lucky's Terrapin Grill, a playful name to go with its then sister store, Dicky's Wild Hare on Maplecrest Road. Melchi also operated Moosewood Barbecue for a while in the Marketplace of Canterbury and brought some of its smoked delights and part of that name to the Turtle.
It is also kind of hard to decide exactly what type of restaurant The Lucky Turtle is. There are still barbecued items and some remnants from the Munchie days such as Moose Snacks, the new name for the Scooby Snacks – steak fries dusted with East Coast crab seasoning.
But there is also a lot of seafood, which best suits the restaurant's eclectic décor featuring big fiberglass sharks and a bunch of other nautical oddities. It was some of that seafood that impressed me most.
The Royal Red Shrimp have been a staple through most of the name changes and they are delicious in their simplicity. The jumbo peel-and-eat shrimp were super sweet with just a touch of zesty seasoning dusted on them. They peeled easily and, when dunked in melted butter, could not have been any better.
I also loved the featured lobster dip appetizer, which was thick and loaded with Chihuahua cheese and shellfish that permeated all of it with its sweet seafood essence. The edges, which browned a little while baking, were the best part to drag the blue corn tortilla chips through.
All of the appetizers proved worthy of having again, which makes me think dropping into the Moose for a snack and a cocktail or two might be the best way to go.
The boneless chicken wings were huge, and super crunchy. I had mine with teriyaki, which was glazed on in the perfect amount. Dare I say they may have been as good as the regular wings?
A nifty spin on wings was found with the Buffalo Balls. The Lucky Turtle offers an Italian version of these meatballs with marinara and cheese and a barbecued version also.
The meatballs were pretty standard restaurant service fare so they were, of course, not as good as scratch-made ones. But there was a plethora of blue cheese crumbles that melted into the spicy sauce, which also had a lot of crunchy raw celery in it. I happily gobbled them all down.
The fried green tomatoes were less creative, but worth getting if you are a fan of them. They were breaded properly and the breading was flavorful while the tomatoes inside were still firm and gave off a nice vegetal flavor. I also loved that they were served with the restaurant's cucumber dip, which makes about anything taste good.
And yes, the Moose Snacks, which also include that cucumber dip, were just as good as they always have been.
My favorite taste of land fare was the Twin Flat Iron – two grilled 6-ounce flat iron steaks with sautéed mushrooms and onions or blackened with bleu cheese. I asked for mine with both.
The steaks were cooked right and the combination of flavors was fabulous. I was also very happy with my choice of side as the warm German potato salad had a little vinegar tang and a touch of sweetness that really worked. It also came with a big chunk of Melchi's fabulous cornbread, which I first fell in love with at his long since closed Voodoo Lounge. It is moist and sweet thanks to its pockets of brown sugar, and has no rival.
There were some items that will not leave a lasting memory.
The brisket at lunch was downright sad given how much I enjoyed the barbecue Moosewood served. Its thin slices were dry as leather and, well, tasted like reheated brisket that was not good to begin with. I barely touched my half-pound serving.
The trouble reached the seafood, too. The Chesapeake Salmon sounded great with a hollandaise-topped, grilled fish fillet atop a large crab cake, but my salmon was badly overcooked, making it about as dry as the brisket. The cake had a nice little kick from jalapeño, but was mediocre at best given the low ratio of crab to filler.
The tuna melt I had at lunch could have been great – could have.
The salad was nice. It had onions, crunchy celery and the right creamy texture. The light rye bread it came on was buttery and grilled until nicely browned and crispy. But I wondered if the bread was grilled separately because the salad inside was quite cold and the cheddar and Swiss cheese was not melted at all. Can't make a proper tuna melt without it being melted.
I also had trouble with the service.
One server admitted she was new and struggled to answer any question, but she was on her game otherwise. She just needed to be brought up to speed on the menu.
My other server either had an odd, sarcastic sense of humor that I did not catch onto right away or he was simply a jerk. I am still not sure which.
What I am sure of is that there is one thing everyone who dines at the Lucky Turtle Grill or the Lucky Moose Lounge or whatever you want to call it should have – the New Orleans Bread Pudding. The calorie-laded, buttery, sweet, decadent, Texas Toast-based delicacy is one of the best desserts I have ever eaten and it still lived up to its reputation.
And even if some of the food and service didn't live up to the lofty standards I have grown used to from Melchi's restaurants, I will be going back because history – see Moose Snacks, cornbread, shrimp and bread pudding – is on his side.
Restaurant: Lucky Turtle Grill
Address: 622 E. Dupont Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Boneless wings ($7.99), lobster dip ($8.88), green tomatoes ($4.99), Buffalo Balls ($7.49), flat irons ($14.77), shrimp ($16.99), salmon ($14.77), tuna melt ($7.99), brisket ($11.99), bread pudding ($4.99)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★★ (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (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 email@example.com; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Out of a possible five