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  • Chicken and waffle from Metro Diner on Coldwater Road.

  • Metro Diner on Coldwater Road.

  • Metro Diner on Coldwater Road.

  • Apple cobbler from Metro Diner on Coldwater Road.

  • A side salad from Metro Diner on Coldwater Road.

  • Meatloaf plate from Metro Diner on Coldwater Road.

  • Shrimp and grits from Metro Diner on Coldwater Road.

  • The 12-inch pancake challenege pancake from Metro Diner on Coldwater Road.

  • Cross-section of the Holy Davoli Burger from Metro Diner on Coldwater Road.

  • The Holy Davoli Burger from Metro Diner on Coldwater Road.

  • Metro Diner on Coldwater Road.

Sunday, June 24, 2018 1:00 am

Comfort food worth ignoring calorie count

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

Metro Diner

****

Out of a possible five

$$

Nothing says comfort food more than a diner, and Metro Diner, the new eatery in Coldwater Crossing along Coldwater Road, really knows how to do comfort food.

But I couldn't help but feel uncomfortable there.

The cozy little Jacksonville, Florida, restaurant that I first heard of in 2010 when it was featured on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” has changed a lot. It has exploded since then and now has 64 locations across the country. Heck, the Fort Wayne store is the seventh in Indiana alone.

It is way more of a chain restaurant now and has more of a static, cookie-cutter feel. It could be about any kind of family restaurant with its nondescript, clean, modern furnishings and artsy color photos of the food. The only real diner-style features were the drop lights and a little stool-lined counter dining area.

The menu has evolved, too. If you go back and watch that clip from 2010, only one item Guy Fieri showcased remains – the meatloaf.

None of that made me uncomfortable. Neither did the ginormous portions that were in some cases ridiculous. It wasn't the quality, either. Everything was delicious and made this a place I will be returning to soon.

What made me uncomfortable was a little line the FDA requires the chain to put next to each of those huge meals on the menu that revealed the calories.

I love indulging, but I didn't need those numbers staring me in the face and laying a guilt trip on me as I gleefully ordered away.

The 1,090-calorie meatloaf did not disappoint. The two thick slabs of loaf were flanked by a huge pile of yummy mashed potatoes slathered in brown gravy, a baguette to soak up all the gravy and some sautéed zucchini and squash so, you know, there was something healthy on the plate.

I am more of a ketchup sauce guy, but this meatloaf was hard to stop eating. It had a smooth texture almost as if the meat had been worked too much, but that was a very minor flaw.

I liked the 1,770-calorie Holy Davoli Burger much better. This burger – made with two grilled cheese sandwiches as its bun – was only 1,690 calories without a fried egg added, but why wouldn't I want the egg? Inside each American-cheese grilled cheese was a slice of tomato and two slices of crispy hickory-smoked bacon. The burger in the middle was topped with chopped lettuce, mayonnaise and pickles.

This sandwich was huge and either had to be deconstructed or required a knife and fork. It had one big flaw – my first patty was raw in the middle. It was quickly replaced and a manager apologized and took it off my bill. Once it was cooked properly, I voraciously tore away at it. The grilled cheeses were buttery and very crisp, and I might actually add a second egg next time – why not – because the runny yolk tied it all together magically.

If there is a signature dish at Metro Diner, it is probably the 2,360-calorie – yes, 2,360 – Fried Chicken and Waffle. It was very good, but not as good as that burger. The bone-in half of a fried chicken was super crunchy with nary a speck of grease, but I found the perfectly flaky breading to be heavy on salt. My server mixed maple syrup with hot sauce from the table before she brought the meal in a ceremonial fashion and that mix was good, but I actually preferred straight syrup on my chicken to tame that salt.

The best part of the dish was the strawberry butter atop my impeccable waffle. It was made with fresh strawberries and was simply outstanding. I would ask for it with any pancake or waffle option.

My rather light by comparison 900-calorie Crab Cake Benedict was a dish I was able to finish. It had two meaty cakes with sweet, stringy crab, a timid but tasty hollandaise and two perfectly poached runny eggs atop an English muffin. The hash browns on the side were also as perfect as they can be.

The “12-inch Challenge” Metro Pancake was also about as perfectly made as a pancake could be, but it really wasn't much of a challenge at just 800 calories. Of course that probably does not include the butter and syrup. If you finish it, you get your picture on the wall, and they better clear some wall space because this was an easy challenge.

The only other dish I was able to finish completely in one sitting was the 1,460-calorie Charleston Shrimp and Grits. It was plenty hefty so it wasn't the size that made me finish it off, it was just so addictively flavorful I nearly licked my plate clean.

The fried grit cakes infused with andouille sausage, cheese and red peppers were the centerpiece. They were buried in a slightly sweet, creamy shrimp sauce along with more sausage, onions, peppers and a bevy of medium-sized shrimp. Chopped bacon crumbled on top added a punch of salt and chopped green onions added a fresh note. It was masterful.

I was surprised at first that Metro Diner did not have an appetizer section. But then I saw the size of the entrées. The restaurant does have soup, and the tomato bisque and broccoli cheese soup were OK.

The best starter and easily the healthiest I had was the 160-calorie (sans dressing) side salad. It had a nice, fresh mix of greens, carrots, red onions, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, croûtons and – in true diner fashion – half a boiled egg.

As if I hadn't had enough, I did try a couple of desserts. Luckily, they were only listed on a chalkboard with the daily features so the calories weren't there to haunt me.

The chocolate cake was pretty standard restaurant service quality with multiple layers of cake with a rich icing and chocolate chips on the heel. The apple cobbler seemed a more fitting comfort-food favorite, and it was decent, though it had an odd, perfectly round scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top that did not melt well – which is what you want in a warm cobbler. It seemed like something that arrived frozen by the serving in perfect spheres.

So I guess it's best to pass on dessert and appetizers at Metro Diner. And by doing that, you are cutting calories by eating there, right?

Restaurant: Metro Diner

Address: 5525 Coldwater Road

Phone: 543-4066

Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Beer and wine

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Meatloaf ($11.49), Holy Davoli ($12.99; $1 to add egg), chicken and waffle ($15.49), shrimp and grits ($16.99), Metro challenge pancake ($6.49), Benedict ($12.99)

Rating breakdown: Food: **1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

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.