During a trip to Fort Wayne to do a presentation for the staff at Sweetwater, one of the largest dealers of products for professional and amateur musicians in the nation, my colleague Simon set up a get-together for some of the sales staff at an Irish bar called J K O'Donnell's. He'd taken some of the staff there before and they were sequestered in a partyroom where they had a fixed menu of appetizers and entrees. Oh, and unlimited beer. Simon got it set up for another night of food and beer when we were there just before Christmas last December.
Downtown Fort Wayne is not unlike many mid-sized Midwestern communities that has suffered from an economic downturn over the past 10 to 20 years. With an urban flight of both people and businesses, store fronts have closed up, people are living away from the center of cities, and downtown areas have become ghost towns after 5 p.m. A number of business people saw the need for a revitalization of the downtown area and one of those men was Scott Glaze, the owner of a company that made medical grade wiring in Fort Wayne. Glaze traveled often for his job, both across the United States and to foreign countries. He was struck at how some similar sized cities had a downtown area with shops and restaurants that he didn't find in Fort Wayne. He wanted to begin a renaissance of the downtown area, but knew he couldn't do it alone.
Glaze got a group of what he called "crazy entrepreneurs" on board for his vision of a downtown revitalization in Fort Wayne. He knew it wouldn't happen overnight, but he had to help get the ball rolling in regard to bringing the downtown back to a vibrant destination. Along with his wife, Melissa, Glaze wasn't certain if he wanted to open a retail shop or a restaurant for their part of the revitalization project. They just knew they wanted to do something.
It was during one of his trips to Castlebar, Ireland to a facility that worked with his company, Glaze found himself in a quaint Irish bar that he fell deeply in love with. The Irish pub gave him the inspiration to open an authentic Irish pub in Fort Wayne. Along with partners Dennis and Jeremy Rohrs, and managing partner Kim Jacobs, the Glaze's opened J K O'Donnell's in August of 2007. Two years later, they expanded into a building beside the business and made that an overflow/party room with extra restrooms.
The main dining room consists of a quaint three-sided bar with a highback bar area that goes from ceiling to floor centered in the middle of the room. Regular tables and high tables like you'd find in an Irish pub were throughout the room. You have to walk through the dining area to get to the party room in the back corner of the restaurant.
Simon had invited about 25 of the top Focal Pro loudspeaker salesmen to the little soiree that snowy evening. Like before, he settled on a number of appetizers and a fixed menu for dinner. As many of the Sweetwater people made it into the room, the appetizers were brought in and a waiter went around taking drink orders.
The beer list at J K O'Donnell's is pretty extensive with a mix of domestic and imported beers. They had a number of very good Midwestern microbreweries to choose from including the Three Floyds brewery out of Munster, IN. (Click here to read about my visit to the Three Floyds brewpub.) For my first beer of the evening, I went with a Three Floyds Alpha King pale ale, a very forward and hoppy pale ale that I like to drink from time to time.
The appetizers were set on a table and they consisted of chicken wings, an artichoke dip served with toasted bread slices, homemade potato chips (that were way over-cooked) and Simon's favorite - fried pickles. Here's a picture of Simon taking a bite into the fried pickles at J K O'Donnell's. Quite actually, the fried pickles were the highlight of the appetizer spread with the artichoke dip a close second. The fried pickles weren't dill spears like you normally will see with that type of appetizer, but rather dill chips covered in a beer batter that was very tasty.
I had finished my Three Floyds Alpha King and decided that while I was in an Irish pub, I'd better get an Irish beer. I ordered up a Smithwick's the second time around. But when the waiter brought it to me I found it to be very flat. So much so that I didn't even finish it. I got the waiter's attention and told him that I wanted something else. I ordered up a Bell's Two Hearted pale ale and stuck with that the rest of the evening.
The fixed menu we had that evening had a number of items off of J K O'Donnell's regular menu including fish and chips, Irish stew, an authentic corned beef and slaw sandwich, as well as a corned beef and cabbage entree, and bangers and mash. Actually, Simon had talked up the Shepherd's Pie before we got there and I was disappointed to not see it on the fixed menu. Even though both the corned beef and cabbage and the corned beef and slaw sandwich sounded good, I ended up ordering the Irish stew which was the closest thing to Shepherd's Pie without the mashed potatoes on top. (A late arriving Sweetwater person actually ordered the Shepherd's Pie. Had I known I could have done that, I would have.)
Our meals began to show up and a couple people at the table I was seated at got the fish and chips (below left). The fish looked a little dark and both people said that it was a little overcooked. Like the homemade potato chips, the fish was darned near burnt from the fryer on the outside. It was like the oil in the fryer was too hot and they should have taken the fish out a minute earlier. The fish was a little rubbery, it was reported to me by those who had it, probably from the overcooking.
My Irish stew was actually pretty good. It was thick and hearty with a very robust taste. It had large chunks of all-natural beef along with a potpourri of vegetables in a dense gravy/broth. A side house salad came with the Irish stew that went well with the meal. A guy at a table next to me got the corned beef and cabbage. And while it did look very good, I was overly happy with my Irish stew. It was a good "stick-to-your-ribs" meal on a cold winter evening in Fort Wayne.
Many of the Sweetwater gang began to filter out before 9 a.m. as they had a 7 a.m. sales meeting the next morning. I settled up the bill with the waiter and it was actually pretty reasonable for the amount of food and drinks that we had. I'd have to say J K O'Donnell's did a fine job in capturing the essence of an authentic Irish pub with the food, the extensive beer list and the decor throughout the place. The wait staff was quick and efficient, and it was a pleasant evening all around. Simon does these little parties from time to time when he comes out to Fort Wayne to deal with Sweetwater. Now that I've been indoctrinated into the Sweetwater culture I'm sure I'll be back to J K O'Donnell's at some point quaffing a few beers and hopefully getting the Shepherd's Pie.