Dining Out

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    When a co-worker hit me up to find a place to meet a date for dinner in Columbia City, I started rolling through my mind's Rolodex and threw out a few names.
  • Chicken offerings, desserts make date
    When a co-worker hit me up to find a place to meet a date for dinner in Columbia City, I started rolling through my mind’s Rolodex and threw out a few names.
  • Deli favorites return to prominence at new digs
    Being forced to close the doors for several weeks while also being forced to find a new location would be more than enough to doom many small restaurants.

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Out of a possible five

Italian fare adds zip to Acme menu

Social media is to blame.

I didn’t think I had a reason to go back so soon, but when people started posting pictures online of big hunks of delicious-looking lasagna and giant meatballs, I knew there was something different going on at Acme Bar & Grill.

A classic Fort Wayne haunt in the East State (Boulevard) Village, chef John Pentangelo, a New Jersey native, has brought a taste of his Italian roots to the eatery and his creations are highlighted every Tuesday on Italian Night.

The lasagna was the most impressive of the specialties. The Baked Lasagna Calabrese is an eight-layer behemoth stuffed with Italian sausage, sliced meatballs, pepperoni and Romano, mozzarella and ricotta cheeses along with Pentangelo’s slightly sweet homemade gravy (anyone who knows Italian knows gravy is sauce). There was a perfect amount of gravy to keep the lasagna moist without masking the ingredients. The sausage was delicious and my only criticism was a minor one – I would have preferred the zesty pepperoni been left in slices instead of finely diced.

Pentangelo said a smaller version of his lasagna has taken the place of the Calabrese for the summer.

The Caprese Mezzaluna (i.e. mushroom) Ravioli was also a winner. Available with marinara or roasted garlic sauce, I chose the latter, which also contained sun-dried tomatoes and spinach. The filling had a hearty, umami flavor from the mushrooms and the sauce was heavy on the garlic and loaded with cheese but still a perfect choice for this dish. And I loved the tender texture of the freshly made pasta.

The sides were also favorable. The Acme Italian Insalata was your basic Casa-inspired salad but a good one, and the garlic-cheese bread was a real treat with a lot of fresh diced garlic on the buttery toasted bread.

The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the Spaghetti and Meatballs Napolitano. The spaghetti was actually linguini, which was OK, as was the sauce. But the meatballs were just not good.

Despite being nearly the size of a baseball, these balls, made from veal, pork, beef, Parmesan, Romano and mozzarella, had too much bread crumb binder. They were too soft and, as I chewed, the mouth feel was more like Thanksgiving stuffing; not meaty like one would hope for from a three-meat meatball.

But my experience returned to positive when it came to the standard Acme fare.

The chicken wings from the big smoker out back were excellent. Lightly smoked so the meat is still moist, the house rub gives them plenty of flavor, but a little barbecue or hot sauce sure didn’t hurt them. They are whole wings, too, and are of decent size.

I could find no fault in the classic patty melt, either. The thick, juicy burger was nicely seasoned with salt and pepper; the sautéed onions added a little sweetness next to the melted Swiss cheese; and the light rye bread was buttery and perfectly grilled.

A rather interesting option was the Nacho Roll, which was a Mexican version of the local favorite sausage roll. Pizza dough was stuffed with cheddar cheese, refried beans, taco meat, tomato, onions, black olives and green peppers. A little sour cream and salsa on the side would be great accompaniments for what turned out to be a surprising treat.

The two appetizers I tried – Sensational Garden Salad and a cup of chicken chowder – were both worth having again.

The salad included shredded carrots, red cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes on crisp romaine and baby spinach, and was topped with oranges, sliced almonds and a freshly grilled, sliced chicken breast. The meat was hot and juicy but a little underseasoned. But that didn’t matter too much when drenched in raspberry vinaigrette. The menu said the salad had mandarin oranges, which would have added a nice touch of sweetness, but mine were regular oranges, which were a tad sour. But it was still a refreshing salad.

The soup was perfect. With black beans, corn, green peppers and shredded chicken, it was just a little spicy and quite thick and hearty.

The biggest flaw during both of my visits was the service. During one visit, my server had no knowledge of the menu and could not answer even the simplest questions. She also forgot to ask me which sauce I wanted on my ravioli, and I received the wrong one. She also neglected to clear used dishes from the table or bring new flatware and napkins with desserts.

During my other visit, one employee seated my party and took drink orders then disappeared. After a long wait a different server finally brought the drinks, one of which was incorrect. That sever also disappeared, making it nearly a half-hour before our orders were taken.

Restaurant: Acme Bar & Grill

Address: 1105 E. State Blvd.

Phone: 480-2264

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 10:30 to 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Rear entrance only

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-Friendly: Yes

Menu: Sensational Garden Salad ($8.99), garlic bread with cheese ($3.50), spaghetti and meatballs ($10.99), wing dinner ($11.99), patty melt ($7.49), Nacho Roll ($8.49), pie ($2.99), crunch cake ($3.29)

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.