FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Sweet Lou’s Pizza
When it comes to dining out, there are a myriad of options in Fort Wayne and the surrounding area, with new establishments opening their doors all the time.
We know your money and time is precious. Who possibly has the time and energy to try every brand-new eatery?
We do of course.
Every month, we will hit up a new restaurant or watering hole in the area and give you the skinny on what we experience — from all that we see and eat to how much coin we drop.
We eat and drink in new places so you don’t have to, or at least not until you know with certainty whether you will like it or not.
Think of this as a community service of sorts. At least, that’s how we are spinning it with our bosses.
We call it First Impressions.
We kick off this monthly feature by dropping in on Sweet Lou’s Pizza on East State Street. Formerly The Rib Room, Sweet Lou’s specializes in Chicago-style deep dish pizza, strombolis, and tasty beer, but does not forget the past with original Rib Room ribs still available.
What did we think?
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: WALKING IN
Yes, the parking lot can still give you claustrophobia, with the side lot still mighty tight. We entered from the back and were welcomed by some friendly employees and not many patrons. We are told by owner Lou Henry that Friday afternoons are none too packed during Lent. You know, the whole no meat for Catholics thing.
There is a nice separation between the family area and the bar section, with booths available right next to the bar. BONUS: There is a power outlet with USB ports in each booth in the bar section, allowing you to charge your phone or portable hair trimmer (you never know).
Oh, and did we mention the old-school table hockey game up front? Recreate the 1980 Miracle on Ice after pizza and drinks? SOLD.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: ATMOSPHERE
Sure, checking out the scenery around a restaurant isn’t everybody’s interest, but we like ambiance and Sweet Lou’s has it in abundance with its exposed architecture look. Yeah, you have the exposed beams showing in the wall and old-school Fort Wayne photos. But we also liked the little touches such as the piping used as the footer of the bar or those sweet Edison-style light bulbs that we all see out at Lowe’s but can’t afford.
The bottom line is that the look of Sweet Lou’s could be replicated. It isn’t something that nobody else could do. But nobody does it and if they did, I doubt they could make exposed pipe and bricks feel so cozy.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: FOOD
The food menu isn’t uniquely deep, just a simple two-sided option with five clear main categories: appetizers, sandwiches, salads, stromboli and, of course, pizza.
Any good local pizza joint has to have a unique taste and Sweet Lou’s does. With thin crust and Chicago-style deep dish options, we, of course, went in on the deep dish that we’ve heard plenty about in the last month, opting for the Sweet Lou’s Special with pepperoni. If you like cheese — and who doesn’t — Sweet Lou’s has you covered because this pizza is loaded with cheese and a crust that stays soft without being ridiculously moist.
But what about leftovers? Does day-old Sweet Lou’s pizza pass the microwave test? Actually, leftovers maintain nearly the same look and taste as it does straight out of the oven.
But deep dish isn’t a quick thing. Expect a 45-minute to an hour wait between ordering and eating.
While you wait for that deep dish, you have to eat more whether it is a snack or another full-on meal (depending on how many ways you have to split the pie). Sweet Lou’s offers the greatest hits of appetizers — from wings to fried cheese (or its more technical term, cooked mozzarella). We tried out the house bread that comes with a whole roasted garlic bulb to add some flavor if you feel like it. It was the first taste of anything we had at Sweet Lou’s and if you ever eat out, you know bread is either great or gross. Well, Sweet Lou’s house bread wasn’t gross. Another selling point is the nostalgia factor, with four bones of original Rib Room Ribs also an option.
The Sweet Lou’s Special stromboli packs in sausage or pepperoni, cheese, mushrooms, peppers and onions into a dough monstrosity. It can easily be your lone meal of the day.
Down the sandwich menu, we tried out one with a nice original name in the Wabash Cannonball. The Italian beef and giardiniera was full of flavor and not too heavy for what could pretty much be described, in layman’s terms, as a big meat sandwich. Leaves plenty of room for the accompanying kettle chips or an additional side.
Looking to go light? Sweet Lou’s has some reasonably-priced salads. We tried the small caesar salad. Great mix of lettuce, cheese, and some big croutons.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: DRINKS
We counted 16 beers on tap, from domestics to selections from breweries such as Dogfish Head and Rhinegeist. Add in over 25 varieties of canned and bottled beer and there is no shortage of options.
Being the purported beer connoisseurs we are, we tried out some different varieties, including the dark coffee-esque Rhinegeist Squirrel Nut Brown Ale which was less biting than your normal dark beer. The bartender was in full-on sales mode too by treating us to a sample of a different kind of cider (that isn’t really a cider) in Rhinegeist’s Bubbles Rosè Ale.
On the wine side, Sweet Lou’s has nearly 10 different selections by the glass to wash down that pizza.
Not in the mood for alcohol? Pop and water are available as well.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: SERVICE
Do you want all of that food and drink? You need to have a good wait staff and we can’t say that we weren’t taken care of, especially as one of the first couple of eaters in the building that day with the 4 p.m. open time. But, as the clientele increased during our stay, the wait staff seemed to multiply out of nowhere too.
Gazing around the place, we can’t say that too many people looked unhappy with how often their wait staff was checking in and checking on them. Our waitress made around five stops at our table over the course of about 90 minutes and did a really good job making sure our food was spaced out from apps to main courses to our pizza.
Oh and didn’t we say that the owner paid our table a visit? Sure probably helps we know Sweet Lou himself from our heyday down the street at North Side, but it was still a nice attraction for the owner to stop on by.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: PRICE
If you want to get some specialty deep-dish pizza, you best be ready to spend. The Meat State Village pie goes for $30 for a large. The witty-named Louminati will put you back $32 for a large.
Thin crust pizza is significantly cheaper, with sandwiches and appetizers reasonably priced.
Want some Rib Room ribs? Four bones and fries will set you back $13.
There is plenty of beer options in cans and bottles for $3 and $4. Draft beer and wine by the glass is a tad more steep.
While Sweet Lou’s isn’t crazy pricey, but be ready for a slight gasp come bill time if you go all in on food and drinks.
We gasped twice.
Would we hit up Sweet Lou’s again? Absolutely. Probably not the first choice for a family meal (unless you make a lot more money than us), but to kick back for a bit with some pizza, beer and some friendly people? Hit up the old Rib Room that is now breathing new life into East State Village.
First Impressions is a new monthly restaurant feature. You can catch Dan and Justin’s opinions on new or recent area eateries each month, rotating on a bi-weekly basis with our Pub Crawl feature. Have a suggestion on where to stop next? Let them known at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org