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Quaker Steak & Lube

Out of a possible five

Sauces, appetizers please at Quaker Steak

It smacks you in the face as soon as you walk up to Quaker Steak & Lube.

Huge letters on this former Don Pablo’s restaurant on Coliseum Boulevard West declare that this Ohio-based chain has the “BEST WINGS USA!”

The place did win the distinction of having the country’s best wings … in 1988. I don’t even remember wings being that popular when I was in high school, but apparently the folks at the National Chicken Out in Cleveland thought the restaurant’s golden garlic wings were worthy of the people’s choice award.

And I was impressed with the variety of wing sauces Quaker Steak offered, 21 in all ranging from buttery ranch-seasoned to the “Guts, Glory, Pain!” of the triple atomic. But best wings in the U.S.A.? No chance.

Best wings in Fort Wayne? Not even close.

Best wings within a three-mile radius? Not even that.

The wings were way too small, not crisp enough and had a tough chewy texture that I might expect from a chain restaurant, but not from a chain so confident it’s still gloating about its 23-year-old crown.

The golden garlic sauce was one of my favorites. It was rich and had a lot of flavor. I also really enjoyed the Buckeye barbecue, a fiery-sweet sauce from the “hot” section, and the Taisian, which combined the mild Asian sesame and the medium Thai ‘R’ Cracker made with chili flakes and garlic.

But the size and doneness weren’t my only beefs. Although you can combine two sauces, like the Taisian, you have to pay extra to split your order. Celery and carrots are offered on the side and the celery was fresh and crunchy. But the carrots were served in tiny plastic bags like the ones you would find in a school lunch, and they were so dry they had started to turn white.

Quaker Steak did have one fantastic – and healthy – offering incorporating the flavorful sauces. The grilled boneless wings were marinated chicken tenders that were tossed in whatever sauce you wanted. And they were tender, juicy and delicious, especially the parmesan-pepper ones I had with my ribs and wings platter.

With a lot of shredded, melted parmesan and just enough pepper, they would have been great atop some fettuccini alfredo, but pasta was not an option.

The breaded boneless wings were not as impressive. The Panko breading was too heavily applied, making them hard and coarse, and it overshadowed the breast meat inside.

If you don’t opt for wings as an appetizer, try the Greek nachos. Pita wedges were fried until crunchy and topped with thin diced bits of gyro meat, feta cheese, tomato, lettuce, onions and scallions. It includes ranch dressing, but a manager who called it one of his favorites said I could opt for tzatziki sauce instead and that was a brilliant choice.

The premium pretzels appetizer was also a winner with its tangy, Guiness beer-spiked cheese dip. It would have also been a nice topping for Quaker Steak’s fresh homemade chips.

The Lube Burger was “truly a handful,” and there was “some assembly required,” just like the menu said. The juicy half-pound burger was topped with sautéed mushrooms, bacon, hot sauce and melted American cheese with bleu cheese on the side. It was a mess, but a tasty mess at least.

Quaker Steak has an in-your-face, wild atmosphere with a sprint car in the dining room, a replica NASCAR and a motorcycle hanging from the ceiling, and nearly every inch of the walls were covered with car and motorcycle photos or other paraphernalia.

And with all of that stuff on the walls, there was not enough room for TVs. During one visit, I could not even see one screen. During the other, I could only view two. So going there to watch you favorite team might not be so easy, and hearing it will be impossible given the noise level was as loud and annoying as the décor.

The service was also annoying. During both visits, the wait for food was too long and my appetizers and main courses arrived all at once. I also struggled to get refills on beverages each time.

Quaker Steak & Lube is flashy and new, and I had heard a lot of good things about the chain before it moved to town. But a phrase splashed inside the menu best summed up my opinion of the restaurant.

“Go haute or go home!”

There was nothing haute about the cuisine, the atmosphere or the service, so I’d rather stay home.

Restaurant: Quaker Steak & Lube

Address: 407 Coliseum Boulevard W.

Phone: 484-4688

Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Wings ($8.99 for 10; $12.99 15), Greek nachos ($8.59), pretzels ($4.59), ribs and wings ($14.59), Lube burger ($8.99)

Rating breakdown:

Food: *

(3-star maximum);

atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (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. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net, and you can hear Ryan from 3 to 4 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.