Couldn't we all use a night at the Acme right now?
A staple of East State Boulevard since 1941 – with just that one blip when it closed for a bit in 2009 – sitting at the old blue-collar bar on the east room rubbing elbows or – gasp! – even shaking hands with friends now would be great.
Acme is still open for carryout during the COVID-19 pandemic and pizza is delivered in a limited area.
Pretty much every trip to this historic little place is great, if you look for the greatness in it. It's not perfect, but there are things there that can make any visit perfect.
Everyone has their favorite dishes, such as the famous breaded tenderloin, and most everyone has a story they can tell about the place. My latest story, however, starts with a plate of nachos.
Dubbed as “Fresh Made,” Acme's nachos could be had with just cheese, pulled pork, chicken or beef. I chose the pork and there was a lot more of that tender smoky meat than I expected, along with shredded cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. I had jalapeños with mine and they came on the side, along with some barbecue sauce, which I chose over salsa, and sour cream.
The chips were very crispy, the lettuce was very green and crisp – romaine I believe – and the sauce was the right choice. It was a great starter for a family as there was plenty for everyone. The only flaw I could find was that the shredded cheese was piled in the center and needed to be better distributed.
All of the tasty ingredients in my Greek salad were perfectly distributed and it was nearly a perfect salad. The chopped mixed greens were just as fresh here, and there was just enough crumbled feta to accent the tomatoes, Kalamata olives and pepperoncini peppers. I added grilled chicken to mine to make it more like a meal than a starter and was pleased with the results.
The chicken was warm, moist and seasoned well. It was proof as to why cold chicken that hasn't been grilled to order – something many places use – is a poor practice.
As good as that salad was, I was surprised at how below par the side salad was. Sure, it had that nice mix of greens, but it only had onions, cucumbers and tomatoes; no cheese, no croutons and no chance of me ordering it again. The cucumber salad was not a better side choice, either, as the creamy dressing coating the cucumbers and onions in this classic had zero flavor.
At least Acme is the kind of place where a pizza or some chicken wings never disappoint, and they didn't this time. But they also didn't really impress that much.
The pizza was nice and crisp on the bottom and had a thick crust with a pronounced yeast flavor that I loved, but the sauce is a bit too bland for me.
I like that the wings are smoked and flash fried and the orange-ginger sauce I tried was tasty, but the meat was a little dry.
One staple item that really disappointed was the simple Spaghetti and Meatballs Napolitano. Since its reopening, Acme has prided itself on its authentic Italian options. Well, my dish of pasta was poorly drained and watery so I struggled just to get the sauce to adhere to the noodles, which were badly overcooked. At least the giant meatballs were delicious and the sauce clung to them.
The weekend special of pan-fried bluegill seemed like the right kind of old favorite that would fit in well at a place like Acme, and the classic sweet, yummy tartar sauce that came with it invoked plenty of great memories of past fish fries. The fish, however, was anything but memorable.
These little fillets were covered with a thin coat of batter that was nice and brown along the edges. The batter was not crunchy, however, and had a flaccid, oily texture and zero flavor. And as good as the tartar sauce was, my sides were also total failures, making this a trip I wanted to forget.
The featured vegetable, Brussels sprouts with bacon, were at least seasoned well, but these whole sprouts tasted steamed instead of truly “roasted” as advertised. There was no caramelization from being roasted and really nothing interesting in terms of flavor other than what they were getting from the floppy bacon and some onion slivers.
Even worse, my side of Texas toast garlic bread was inedible. It appeared as if it was grilled under too hot of a flame and much of it was covered by a black haze that made it taste like soot.
I ordered the homemade bread pudding figuring it would surely not disappoint, but it too missed the mark. It wasn't a total failure, but it was markedly dry and lacking its custard, which is pretty much the one thing you can't do when you make it. The vanilla ice cream melting into it helped, but I actually grabbed a coffee creamer to pour over mine in an attempt to save it.
What saves Acme from being a place I won't return to is its reputation. The service was splendid during my visits even when it was packed on a Saturday night, which is always the case.
And there is something comforting about the place, whether it is the booth in the family room you used to sit in with your grandparents when the mini jukeboxes on the table still worked or the familiar glow from the neon signs out front lighting up your table. It might be that bar or that amazing baseball mural that belongs in a museum.
There is not a thing I would change about the looks of the place. Even the newest dining area on the west side where the carryout store once was is a sight to behold with its local sports jerseys.
It is a classic – the kind of place we all need to welcome customers back into soon. Nothing will make us feel things are back to normal more than visiting our normal haunts.
Restaurant: Acme Bar & Grill
Address: 1105 E. State Blvd.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Wings ($8.29), nachos ($8.99). spaghetti and meatballs ($11.49), Greek salad ($8.99; $12.48 with chicken), pizza (one topping: $5.99 for 7-inch, $10.99 12-inch, $14.99 14-inch), bread pudding ($4.49)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★ (3-star maximum); atmosphere: ★ (1 maximum), service: ★ (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.
Acme Bar & Grill
Out of a possible five
This restaurant review was done before the state's restrictions on businesses, which caused restaurants to close dining room operations and instead offer limited carry-out and delivery.
• The "Gourmet" macaroni and cheese was anything but gourmet. It had a very chalky texture from either too much roux or sub-par cheese.
• The rib tips were acceptable with a nice smoky flavor and good texture, but I was disappointed I was not offered a choice of sauce and even more disappointed at how little sauce was on mine.
• The homemade garlic toast was a great start to one of my visits. It was nicely toasted, buttery and delicious.