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Mad Anthony Tap Room

Out of a possible five

Great grilled cheese worth trip to Auburn

When one of my doctors told me I needed to try a great new grilled cheese at the Mad Anthony Auburn Tap House, there was little doubt I was going to.

If an esteemed member of the local medical community recommends a dish soaked in butter and filled with cheese, it must be good for you, right? Well, the new Gourmet Grilled Cheese did have roasted red peppers and baby spinach on it, so at least a little of it was healthy. It also had Wisconsin artisan brick cheese, fresh mozzarella and a sweet-spicy jam. And it was fabulous.

But the best part of this creation was that it shows how committed to area businesses the three restaurants – Fort Wayne and Warsaw in addition to Auburn – the Mad Anthony Brewing Co. runs is.

The cheese is supplied by the Cheeseman Store on South Jackson Street in Auburn, which also bakes the spent-grain beer bread it is made with. And, yes, that spent grain comes from Mad Anthony’s Fort Wayne brewing operation.

The jam is Bill’s Best Jam, which is made nearby by DeKalb County resident Dawn Bale. The tart cherry and jalapeno product was sticky sweet but still spicy enough to grab your attention.

The jam also came as a garnish on my Artisan Cheese Plate appetizer, which included more from the Cheeseman Store: Mindoro (Wis.) bleu cheese, smoked provolone and morel-leek cheese and toasted beer bread. All of the cheeses – which vary – were great and the jam was perfect with the strong-tasting, pungent bleu. The speckled morel-leek had the most unique flavor and the smoked provolone was surprisingly creamy.

According to Tap Room general manager David Benson, the chain has tried its best to support area suppliers and will continue to. Besides the Cheeseman Store and Bill’s Best, the restaurants also buy burgers, tenderloins and rib-eyes from Tim Didier Meats, 3205 N. Wells St. in Fort Wayne, and get the sausages for the bangers and mash from Stanley’s Market in Toledo.

The cheese plate and grilled cheese weren’t the only “new” items I tried. The Crawfish Balls appetizer and Bar-B-Q Tri-tip Sliders provided mixed results.

The sliders were great and I was surprised to find the California specialty on a menu here. The thin-cut steaks, which come from the bottom sirloin, were nicely grilled with a little char, the onions were perfect and the sauce was dark with a sweet molasses flavor.

The pub potato chips on the side, which I asked for barbecue-style, were sizzling hot and crisp, but did not have enough barbecue seasoning. The regular French fries, which were double-fried to be crunchy, were much better, as was the savory, celery-seed dotted slaw.

The Crawfish Balls were like hush puppies with bits of crawfish in them that were a little tough, but added plenty of the strong shellfish flavor these mud bugs have. Two of the three I was served were too dark from being fried a little long, but I actually preferred them because they were crunchier and had none of the slight off-putting crawfish flavor I tasted in the lesser-fried one.

The most traditional Mad Anthony offering I had, the artichoke and spinach unwrap, was topped with plenty of the name ingredients mixed with a creamy white sauce and a chewy layer of melted cheddar-jack cheese. The only thing that kept it from being perfect was that its thin pizza crust was a tad soggy.

The hoagie roll on my grilled grouper sandwich was also soggy. The fish was nicely seasoned with a black pepper-heavy Cajun spice mix and its flavor was mild and sweet, but the fillets were too moist on the outside – a fact I cannot explain given they were grilled – and made every bite too moist.

All of the desserts I tried – Mocha Java Stout Cheesecake, Swiss Cake and Chocolate Chalais Cake – had the same problem. They were half-frozen.

My server verified that they were, indeed, frozen and had to be microwaved before serving. The Swiss Cake was the best with layers of chocolate mousse, chocolate cake and chocolate ganache, but none of them is worth ordering again until the Tap Room staff figures out a proper way to thaw them.

The atmosphere in Auburn is fantastic, with the old building downtown having gorgeous brick walls and high tin ceilings. The walls are covered with a hodgepodge of antiques including old beer barrels painted with the names of many of Mad Anthony’s brews. And how could I not love a place that had an autographed Hacksaw Jim Duggan photo hanging next to my table?

The service was the biggest flaw, however. During one visit my server was too inattentive and during another, despite a fabulous server, the staff failed when it came to seating. Six tables sat empty when I arrived, but I waited nearly 20 minutes to be seated while the staff scrambled to clear a group of tables that had been put together for a large party. When they were finished, my party was seated at one of the tables that was empty when I walked in the door.

Restaurant: Mad Anthony Tap Room

Address: 114 N. Main St., Auburn

Phone: 260-927-0500

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Smoking status: Both; smoking in bar only

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Artisan cheese plate ($9.99), crawfish balls ($5.39 for 3; $9.99 for 6), Bavarian pretzels ($4.99), grilled cheese ($6.99), spinach and artichoke unwrap ($8.79), sliders ($9.99), mocha stout cheesecake ($3.50) Swiss cake ($4.95)

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

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. 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).