As sad as I was to see the Acme Bar & Grill close its doors after 68 years last year, I could not have been happier when I saw what an outstanding job new owners Jeff and Amy Parrish did when resurrecting the East State Boulevard landmark.
All of the things that gave the old place where neighbors meet its charm are still there, but it feels a little different now – and that is for the better.
The huge baseball mural in the family room and the tableside jukeboxes in the booths are still rustic and super cool, but those booths have been completely reupholstered to give them a clean, modern look that is carried throughout the old bar. There are big flat-screen TVs on some of the walls, which have a snazzy new paint scheme, and carpeting gives it some added elegance, as do the attractive, steel-framed watercolor prints of other Fort Wayne landmarks.
Not only did it look fresh, it smelled much different than the old place, which seemed kind of stale from years of cigarette smoke and, well, just age. The bathrooms werent ignored, either. The mens room was one of the cleanest I have seen anywhere, its floor covered with beautiful new checkerboard tile that also covers the bar side.
As wowed as I was by the atmosphere of this new Acme, my joy didnt last long because I found the food from its new menu to be of the same level of mediocrity that led to the old Acmes falling out of favor. With a heavy emphasis on barbecue and simple bar fare including fried tenderloins and burgers, it was not too different in terms of makeup, which would not have been a problem had the quality of that food improved as much as the décor.
The tenderloin, an old Acme staple, was so-so in terms of its thickness and quality of the meat, and the gritty, crunchy breading had no flavor whatsoever. A heavy shake of salt and a nicely toasted bun were the only things that allowed me to continue eating it. Although it was once a trademark sandwich, I could easily name 10 places in the Summit City with better tenderloins than The Big One.
The fried fish – another item I could count on at the old place – was even worse. The pollock was lightly breaded in sort of a Famous Fish style, but that breading was not crisp and it, too, lacked seasoning. The fish inside was hard, rubbery and terribly overdone.
At least the pizza did not disappoint. The Mediterranean had a decent crust – crisp and just a little chewy – and the plethora of feta cheese on top was nicely browned. The cheese and the mayo-based sauce were the perfect creamy accompaniments to the flavor-strong salami and olives that topped the pie along with onion, mushroom, zucchini and pineapple.
The sausage roll from the pizza menu, the Acme roll, was not as pleasant. It looked unappetizing with a limp, wrinkly exterior crust that looked kind of like a deflated balloon. A large portion of the crust also had an odd blackish color created by a dough bubble that had popped on its top. The crust was paper-thin and not at all crisp, and its entire underside was soggy and inedible. It was packed with plenty of sausage, bacon, green and banana peppers, mushrooms and onions but needed more cheese and a lot more sauce.
The items from the smoker were a mixed bag. The pulled pork was moist and tender and not shredded too finely, so it had some meatiness to it. I also found the fresh-cut fries to be pretty tasty and worthy of sauce dipping. The beef brisket was so poor I found it hard to believe it had come from the same place. The thick slices of beef were somewhat dry and had me thinking they had been pulled from the smoker long ago and then reheated. I also wondered how that brisket could have been smoked for 20 hours as the menu claimed because I could not detect the flavor of any smoke. It tasted more like bland pot roast.
I questioned the method of cooking the chicken wings, too. The menu stated they were deep-fried, but the ones I had were not crisp, and they appeared charred as if they had been grilled or baked after being sauced. But that sauce was good. It was just spicy enough to make you reach for your beer and it had a little vinegar bite I really enjoyed.
I also really enjoyed the mini-crock of bread pudding I chose for dessert. It was rich, gooey and decadent thanks to a drizzle of caramel on top that oozed into the custard-soaked bread and raisins underneath. It was as comforting as comfort food gets. I also liked the maple cream pie, which was smooth, creamy and had just the right touch of maple so it was not super sweet. It also was full of crunchy walnuts, which are always a good idea with maple.
The strawberry shortcake, however, made me angry. The shortcake was fine, but I was disappointed the strawberries did not have enough juice coming from them to properly soak it. When I bit into the first one, I knew why. At a time when fresh strawberries are at their peak, mine were still icy from the freezer.
I would have thought those berries would have had plenty of time to thaw given how long it took for my desserts to arrive. I also was troubled that despite the long wait for those desserts, my coffee arrived when I was halfway finished with them during both visits even though it was ordered at the same time. The service was sketchy, with servers who went MIA and failed to clear plates promptly or check to see whether my party needed anything.
Restaurant: Acme Bar & Grill
Address: 1105 E. State Blvd.
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 10:30 to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol served: Full bar
Credit cards accepted: Yes
Menu: Chicken wings ($6.99), Mediterranean pizza ($7.99; $13.95; $19.95), Acme roll ($7.95), tenderloin ($8.48), pulled pork ($7.49), fish ($11.48), brisket dinner ($9.99), strawberry shortcake ($3.99), bread pudding ($3.99), pie ($2.89)
Food: 1/2 (3-star maximum);
atmosphere: * (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).