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Timbers
*** 1/2
Out of a possible five
$$$

Timbers’ service, seafood stand out

Menu recommendations are an aspect of service that is somewhat rare these days, but they can drastically change one’s perception of a restaurant.

Often, questions to servers are met with blank stares. Or, even worse, you ask the person at the classic steakhouse what cut of beef he would suggest, and he says something to the effect of, “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t even like meat.”

At Timbers in Angola, however, one server’s advice set the tone for what was a pleasurable experience that carried through both of my visits.

As soon as my family was seated in the dark, rustic, log-cabin-style steak and seafood restaurant on U.S. 20, a young woman took our drink orders and asked whether we wanted some buffalo-chicken dip to warm our bellies on a cold winter’s night. And the dip, a special not listed on the menu, proved to be a great choice. A warm basket of salty tortilla chips was what this dip of shredded chicken and a little celery blended in Buffalo sauce, cream cheese and ranch dressing was eaten with. A friend of mine makes a great version of it, and Timbers’ compared well and may have been a bit meatier with chunks of chicken here and there.

The same server also told me she felt the New York strip was the best steak option and recommended the grilled shrimp skewer to the fried shrimp as an add-on. The 16-ounce strip was solid – perfectly prepared, juicy and flavorful with the right amount of fat – but the shrimp were the real find. I was skeptical at first when I saw how small the shrimp were, but there were 10 of them on my single skewer (dinners can be ordered with two or three skewers). Although small, they were full of sweet shrimp flavor and had just the right kiss of char from the fire. A ramekin of herby garlic butter was the perfect pool to dip the shrimp, and I would not hesitate to just order them as a meal again.

When trying to select a fish to sample, my server again stepped up and recommended the pecan-crusted tilapia special over the menu staple walleye, grouper, salmon and tuna. The nutty breading became super crisp and buttery as it was pan sautéed, and that mix of flavors really worked with the mild fish, which was so moist I might even call it juicy.

“Did you save room for dessert; a cinnamon-apple bowl, maybe?” my server asked as she promptly cleared finished plates.

The answer was yes, of course. A cinnamon- and sugar-covered tortilla bowl was filled with warm apples and a scoop of cinnamon crunch ice cream, then topped with caramel sauce and whipped cream. The pie filling-style apples were tender and sweet, the ice cream had little chewy bits of cinnamon crumble, and the caramel was warm and gooey. It was a great finish to a great meal.

During my second visit to Timbers, my waitress was friendly but struggled with an automated ordering device that looked like a BlackBerry and seemed confused whenever I had a question. Fortunately, others on the staff stepped up and helped her, including the owner, who happened to be walking by as I asked about the different fish preparations.

He promptly advised me not to have the walleye done Timbers style – charbroiled with garlic butter sauce – and steered me toward the daily special mahi-mahi. Again, it was a great suggestion. The fish was thick and meaty but still flaky and moist, and the dark grill marks gave it a hearty, outdoorsy flavor. The butter sauce was the same kind I had with the shrimp before, and the herbs worked well on this seafood choice. Choose a baked potato or loaded potato over the Timbers taters, however, as the latter were deep-fried mashed-potato nuggets that were not worthy of carrying the restaurant’s name.

The house steak, however, was worthy of being the steak of choice and deserves to be on the menu permanently, even though it is simply a special now. It was an affordable special at just $9.99, too. This 8- to 10-ounce specialty cut called a chuck tender is similar to a sirloin, and it is marinated in Maker’s Mark bourbon. The steak was tender from end to end and had a pronounced bourbon flavor with just a touch of sweetness upfront.

Other recommended items include the mango-habanero chicken wings, which were more sweet than hot, and the homemade apple crumble pie, which had firmer, tarter apples than the cinnamon-apple bowl but went great with a scoop of that cinnamon crunch ice cream.

The salad and soup bar was rather mediocre. The salad bar had basic offerings that did not exude freshness, including dry, chalky-looking mini carrots and a pale iceberg blend from a bag. There were, however, several homemade salads – kidney bean, pea, potato and pasta – that made up for it. The tomato bisque was also boring and basic, and, despite sounding promising, the cheesy lasagna soup had a somewhat processed flavor similar to canned pasta.

But those issues were not enough to change my perception of Timbers. The attention from the more-than-helpful staff members and tasty food they steered me toward made it a restaurant I can strongly recommend.

Restaurant: Timbers

Address: 1212 W. Maumee St., Angola

Phone: 260-665-7487

Hours: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: Steak and seafood

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol served: Full bar

Credit cards accepted: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Buffalo chicken dip ($4.99), chicken wings ($3.99 for 6; $5.99 for 10), 16-ounce New York strip ($20.99), pecan-crusted tilapia ($12.99), mahi-mahi ($12.99), cinnamon-apple bowl ($4.29), apple pie ($2.49)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (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. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130, or go to the “Dining out” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net. DuVall’s past reviews can also be found at the Web site, and you can hear Ryan every Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. on 92.3 FM, The Fort.

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