When I heard Ruth's Chris was coming to the city, I thought it would likely be the best steakhouse in Fort Wayne based on the chain's reputation and my past experiences.
And after I visited the impressive-looking restaurant in Skyline Tower, it indeed has no peers when it comes to preparing steak.
But I am not ready to call it the best steakhouse because there were some flaws that were as shocking as they were disappointing.
There was nothing disappointing about the steaks.
The 40-ounce Tomahawk Rib-eye was one of the best hunks of beef I have ever eaten and was well worth its hefty $119 price tag.
Not to be outdone, the 11-ounce filet was probably the best filet mignon I have ever eaten and, given it is less than $50, it is what I would order during my next visit.
Like most steak lovers, I seldom choose the leaner filet over a rib-eye.
But Ruth's Chris' method of serving this cut in a pool of butter on a 500-degree plate is what altered my habit.
The butter adds the fat a filet needs, and I found so much joy in sliding each ultra-tender slice with its rich, beef flavor into that pool of salty goodness.
I was also glad my server talked me into getting it rare. Given the plate is so hot, you can basically cook the meat on that buttery plate until it is medium-rare.
The same method worked magically on the rib-eye. The meat on this behemoth was nearly as tender, was deftly seasoned and had just the right amount of fat, which was the best part as it was like beef candy.
The sizzling plates is what separates Ruth's Chris from the rest of the crowd.
With such a good reputation as a national chain, I expected to have a hard time getting a table, but I did not expect to have trouble after making a reservation online well in advance.
Not only did I receive an email confirmation, I was also called a day prior to verify it.
When I arrived, there was no record of it. Even after I showed the hosts my email and confirmation number, they were still at a loss.
As a result, I was seated in the back corner in a busy area next to the wine cooler.
I marked on my online reservation as a date night, but I didn't get one of those cozy clamshell booths that provide privacy, and the noise level at my open table was so bad I could not converse with my date without shouting.
During another visit in which I had to sit at the bar, which was fine given I had no reservation, I inquired about the beautiful – but empty – patio surrounding the restaurant. I was told the restaurant did not receive the proper permits for that patio so it was going to stay empty all summer.
A chain like Ruth's Chris should not have made such a blunder in planning its first venture in Fort Wayne, which was eagerly anticipated and highly publicized.
Sitting at the bar was a great option. It was wide and roomy so eating a meal with sides and appetizers on a standing-room-only night was not at all uncomfortable.
I was stunned during one visit that there were no off-menu features. That is usually the only chance you have to get something seasonal at a chain with a seldom-changing menu.
It was a definite drawback.
When it came to the a la carte sides at Ruth's Chris, the classic creamed spinach – something I just have to have at a steakhouse – was phenomenal. It was perfectly seasoned and about as creamy as it could be without just being a bowl of warm cream sauce.
The lobster mac and cheese came in a huge crock and the cheese-rich pasta was nicely browned on top. Its star ingredient nearly covered its top, and that lobster was cooked to just the right temperature so it was soft and sweet.
In most lobster macs, the shellfish gets hammered and is too rubbery. This side was so good and so generous in size, I wouldn't hesitate to order it as my meal.
The only side that I did not care for was the sweet potato casserole. It was cloyingly sweet with candied pecans and each bite was like a mouthful of sugar. It might have been a good dessert with a scoop of ice cream, but not as a side.
The Berkshire Pork Chop was the best non-beef entrée I tried. This beautiful 16-ounce, double-cut, bone-in chop was also served on a sizzling plate – all of the entrées are – and its outer edge of fat was rendered beautifully so it was the star just as the fat was on that rib-eye.
The juices flowed from it and it needed no help from a sauce or fancy garnish.
The Chilean Sea Bass could have used a fancy garnish. It was nicely cooked and of high quality and sat atop a sweet potato and pineapple hash to prevent it from overcooking on the plate. Coconut butter gave it a touch of sweet flavor but it needed something else – a fresh slaw, perhaps – to take it to the next level.
There was nary a flaw with the appetizers.
The Lobster Voodoo – lightly fried with a spicy cream sauce and cucumber salad – mimicked the mac and cheese in that the shellfish was perfectly cooked. It was not as good as the Sizzling Blue Crab Cakes, however. They might be the best in town with crab upon crab upon crab with little filler to get in the way, and, yes that buttery plate was a plus.
The chop salad was gorgeous as it was tightly formed in a ring mold with crispy onions on top. It was heavily dressed with its lemon-basil dressing, but that was a good thing as it needed to be with so many strong ingredients such as blue cheese, bacon, radicchio and green olives. It was also fun to watch my server properly use the French technique of forming a fork and spoon into tongs to portion it out on plates.
The simple fresh berries with sweet cream sauce was a fantastic light dessert option with blueberries, blackberries and raspberries in a creamy, runny sauce with hints of vanilla that reminded me of a sabayon.
The Chocolate Duo was a flop.
The chocolate mousse was fine – light and airy with plenty of chocolate flavor – but the molten chocolate lava cake had clearly fallen during cooking and was almost flat. It was also cold so there was no lava. My server saw it was not right and swept it away.
She returned with a new cake and apologized. The new cake looked better, but it was also cold and tasted like raw batter.
A manager explained that there was an issue with that night's batch of cakes, took it off my bill and offered a replacement.
He handled it professionally, but, still, if Ruth's Chris was indeed the best steakhouse in Fort Wayne, it should have been able to pull off a lava cake.
Restaurant: Ruth's Chris Steak House
Address: 224 W. Wayne St.
Hours: 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday; 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday
Cuisine: Steak and seafood
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit cards: Yes
Kid-friendly: Not really
Menu: Lobster Voodoo ($21.50), crab cakes ($22), chop salad ($13), filet ($48.50), chop ($39.50), sea bass ($43), lobster mac ($23), sweet potato casserole ($10), spinach ($10), berries and cream ($9.50), Chocolate Duo ($12)
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 email@example.com; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Out of a possible five