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The Office Tavern
**** 1/2
Out of a possible five
$$

Sleepy bar stuns with top steaks

The question came from my good friend Enrique on a Thursday night, “Dude, in your opinion what’s the best steak you’ve had in the Fort?”

He has hit me up for advice before, so I started rattling off a few of my favorites. But then he stopped me and said, “I think I might have that beat! I just had what to me is the best steak in the Fort! And at the most unexpected place.”

He refused to tell me at first, hoping to somehow blindfold me and take me there or something, but I needled and begged and finally dragged it out of him.

“Are you ready for this? … The Office Tavern,” he said.

And he wasn’t lying.

This little nondescript blue-collar bar on Brooklyn Avenue caters to all sorts – from bikers to retirees – and calling its menu limited is an understatement. And those steaks are only available on Monday and Friday nights.

But every morsel of food I had there was not only good, it was great with a few items that would easily make my Top 5 in the city.

There are only three steaks – a filet, a rib-eye and a New York strip. They come with dinner salads and a baked potato or another other side, and all were economically priced. The strip is $12.95, the filet is $13.95 and the rib-eye is $16.95.

Tavern owner Lee Bradley cuts the steaks himself. The filet is advertised at 10 ounces, the strip at 14 ounces and the rib-eye at 16 ounces, but they are usually much bigger, he said, because he cuts generously. My rib-eye had to be 20-plus ounces, so I did not doubt him a bit.

“I don’t want anyone accusing me of selling a little steak,” said Bradley, who has owned the bar for six years.

He said his regulars consider steak night the best-kept secret in Fort Wayne, and I agreed.

The best of the three, and one of the best steaks I have had anywhere, was also the least expensive – the New York strip. While the filet was the most tender and the rib-eye had the most profound beef flavor, the strip was the perfect balance between the two. All of the steaks were beautifully marked and seasoned perfectly with Bradley’s rub, which added just the right amount of salt, pepper and what I think was a little garlic.

The baked potato was huge. When split and smashed, it covered an entire plate. I also suggest paying a little extra to have it loaded. It was covered with a cheesy yellow sauce that Bradley creates – “Not from a can, that is for sure,” he said – and bacon crumbles.

I was not expecting much from the salad, either, but the joke was on me again because it was better than the salads at most steakhouses. It was a giant bowl of spring mixed greens and fresh romaine, freshly cut carrots, cucumbers, red and yellow peppers, croutons and a whole sliced boiled egg.

During my next visit, I had to try the tenderloin and a burger. There was no way they could stack up to those steaks, right?

Fooled again.

The Office Tavern Burger is a half-pound patty made from Bradley’s leftover steak trimmings, mixed with a little ground chuck if he needs to stretch it. I ordered a double cheeseburger and received easily one of the best five burgers in this city.

The patties were perfectly seared on the char-griller to hold in all the juices and it had that nice from-the-grill char. With lettuce, tomato, red onion and mayonnaise, it was a big sloppy delicious mess. Next time, I will probably just get a single because there was little weight lost during cooking on this behemoth.

Bradley’s hand-made pork tenderloin also could rank among the best in town. The 8-ounce loin wasn’t pounded out too thin, it had a nice and crispy breadcrumb coating that was seasoned well. I often find I need to grab the salt shaker on these deep-fried Indiana legends, but not this time.

The Office Tavern also did a good job with the bar staples of chicken wings and nachos. That same ground steak used for the burger is used to make the meat for the nachos and there was a big pile of it in the middle of my serving. The Office also uses thick tortilla chips to stand up to all of that beef, shredded Colby-jack cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, jalapenos (optional), sour cream and salsa. The meat was seasoned nicely and didn’t need much to kick it up, but if you like yours hot, be sure to ask for Bradley’s bottle of El Yucateco brand Kutbil-ik Mayan hot sauce. It has a somewhat smoky roasted chile flavor, and it is quite spicy.

The sizable chicken wings were fried until crisp and charred on the grill for extra flavor. The hot sauce, which Bradley concocts using the El Yucateco and other ingredients, had the perfect level of heat to make you grab your beer but not enough to produce tears. I also loved the garlic-Parmesan, which were simply coated in butter and fresh garlic, then dusted with a generous amount of grated cheese. The bourbon were a bit too sweet and lacked the flavor I was looking for.

As nondescript as it looks from the street, The Office Tavern was refreshingly spiffy inside. Don’t get me wrong, it has that roadhouse feel, but its black ceiling and dark floor tiles give it a clean look, and I loved the shiny truck liner-style textured aluminum wrapped around the bar.

The service was also stellar. Even though she was busy and working alone, the waitress who waited on me during both visits stayed on top of things. She was charming, too, and you could tell the regulars love her.

And I think I would love being a regular at The Office Tavern.

Its steaks and burgers are truly some of the best kept secrets in Fort Wayne – a secret so good I almost wish I’d kept it to myself.

Restaurant: The Office Tavern

Address: 3306 Brooklyn Ave.

Phone: 478-5827

Hours: Noon to 3 a.m. daily

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-Friendly: No

Menu: Burger ($5.95 single; $7.25 double; 50 cents for cheese), tenderloin ($5.95), nachos ($7.25, $4.25 half), wings ($5.25 for six; $ 9.95 for 12; $15.95 for 20; $22.95 for 30)

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. 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.

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