It is a recipe that Flanagan’s Restaurant and Pub owner John Giokaris learned while attending Ohio State University from 1958 to 1961, and it creates one of the best breads in Fort Wayne.
“My family owned three restaurants in Columbus and a baker they had from Germany taught it to me,” Giokaris said.
That bread plays a part in more than 25 items on his restaurant’s gigantic menu, Giokaris estimated, and it makes the best garlic bread I have ever eaten. It is thick, soft and airy, and just a little sweet, and it also makes one of this town’s best grilled cheese sandwiches.
But it is not just that magical bread Flanagan’s is churning out. All of the breads and buns but one – the rye – are made in house by longtime baker Carla Keys, who also does the desserts.
“The only dessert we don’t make from scratch is the ice cream that goes with some of them,” Giokaris said.
Keys’ chocolate cookie cheesecake, just recently added back to the menu, is one of the most impressive cheesecakes I have had in a while. The quirky menu description pretty much said it all:
“Long before memory there lived a cheesecake with a magical silken smooth filling of cheesecake mix and chocolate mousse, and a riot of chocolate chips and chocolate cookie chunks in a crunchy chocolate cookie crumb crust. Finished with a whisper of rich chocolate glaze, even the wisest wizard would be enchanted.”
I was enchanted, and they better never take this one off the menu again.
All of the desserts were winners (yes, sweets easily enchant me). The Reese’s Peanut Butter Blitz had a rich chocolate brownie base topped with a creamy whipped layer of peanut butter fluff, chunks of Reese’s cups and chocolate syrup. The whipped layer was surprisingly light in texture but really packed a PB punch.
The cinnamon cran-apple crumble was a delectable hot mess with the warm caramel on top melting the vanilla ice cream and both of them oozed into the sugary mix of apples and plump cranberries.
I found a fabulous “Build your own” section on Page 12 (of 21). Flanagan’s allows diners to add a variety of meats, vegetables and cheeses to its Caesar salad for varying prices. I added lemon-pepper chicken and tomatoes.
The salad was meal-sized and was perfectly prepared so that each piece of fresh romaine was evenly coated with dressing. It had grated Parmesan and shredded mozzarella and house-made croutons from the tasty bread. The chicken had more pepper than lemon flavor although both were there, and it was grilled nicely to still be moist and tender. The ripe tomatoes added a burst of acidity.
The Reuben was tempting, but I opted for its cousin, the Irish melt, which was also served on buttery toasted rye bread. It had the same hearty corned beef – roasted and shredded on site – and was topped with sautéed onions instead of sauerkraut, cheddar cheese instead of Swiss and horseradish sauce instead of Russian dressing. The meat was moist and delicious, the sweet onions were great with the zesty sauce and the combo was just wonderful.
The best appetizer I had was one of the bruschettas, which – surprise, surprise – are made with the famous bread.
The chicken in the Buffalo bruschetta was finely diced to match the bits of red onion and tomato, coated in a spicy sauce and topped with Monterrey jack cheese. The thick bread held up well, and the only thing it needed was a little Bleu cheese or ranch, which I will ask for next time.
The peppercorn New York strip was said to have “a kaleidoscope of flavors,” but my kaleidoscope was a little dim. It was a great piece of beef – seared well, pink and tender – and it was tasty, but it lacked the peppery punch I expected from a peppercorn steak. I was also disappointed with the bland, drab-looking grilled vegetables I chose as my side.
The only things that really disappointed were Flanagan’s soups. There is no reason to bother with them considering the way above-par house salad.
Nestled behind Covington Plaza, Flanagan’s has that Applebee’s/Ruby Tuesday/TGI Friday’s feel – with a hodgepodge of antiques covering seemingly every inch of the place. But, knickknacks aside, it is an impressive facility.
There are beautiful stained-glass windows and rustic wooden beams that Giokaris had imported from England when he had the place built 23 years ago.
His staff of 60 did a great job providing service with just a couple of minimal waits, and they seemed well-trained. Just ask them how many days it is until St. Patrick’s Day and see whether you can stump them.
And even though it has a ridiculously huge menu and didn’t seem like one of those places that would go the extra mile, it did. They cut their own meats, make all of the sauces from scratch and, of course, bake that fabulous bread.
And that makes it well worth frequenting.