Eddie Merlot's: Memorable food, fine dining
A steakhouse for foodies.
Sounds delicious, right?
That's the perfect description for Eddie Merlot's, a prime-aged steakhouse started in Fort Wayne by founder and well-known wine connoisseur, Bill Humphries. Its success has led to restaurants opening in seven states, with an eighth coming soon.
And there are good reasons Eddie Merlot's enjoys such an excellent reputation. Joseph, General Manager of the 96th Street location, explained to me that Mr. Humphries has no desire for Eddie Merlot's to be a typical steakhouse. Traditional steakhouses are dark and possibly even a little stuffy.
Because a high percentage of restaurant choices are made by women, he wanted Eddie Merlot's to have a feminine appeal; soft colors, natural lighting, comfortable seating – a stylish, modern interior paired with sophisticated intimacy.
According to Joseph, "Bill Humphries is a visionary. He exhibits an entrepreneurial spirit in every decision he makes. Each manager is empowered to assume ownership of their location, staff, menu, and guests." It is obvious that Joseph is very proud of his Eddie Merlot's on 96th Street. He takes a comprehensive approach to minute details so that his restaurant and staff are prepared every night.
"I pencil out what I call a ‘plan of attack' to maximize each server's strengths, which hopefully results in a smooth evening." Joseph emphasizes how the chefs and servers really take it from there. "We have so many amazing servers. Guests often specifically request their favorite and we always try to honor those requests."
What is intriguing is that Joseph coaches servers on how to ‘read' a table and its guests.
"That helps the server know what kind of experience his particular group requires. For example, a celebration, an intimate night for two, or a business meeting would each require a different approach. Indy has a lot of choices when it comes to food – especially steakhouses. At Merlot's we take care of our guests. We don't want them to feel like they're coming to a chain; we want them to feel like they're coming home."
Joseph also strives to spend time with guests during the evening.
"I realize that many people choose Eddie Merlot's for a special meal to celebrate a life event – and it's our job to give them exquisite food in a world-class setting so they can ‘make a memory.' We want them to leave thinking, ‘that was a special event…and I cannot wait to come back'.
"Our menu focus on the highest-quality meat and seafood, combined with the freshest ingredients. Our broad selection of wine is superb. Two years ago we rolled out a ‘craft beer' program, so we now serve eight-nine local Indiana beers." Joseph also assists with the beverage program and ensures every server is trained when it comes to their extensive list of pairings.
After talking to Joseph, I had a chance to sit down with Jerry Myers, executive chef for Eddie Merlot's, and tap into his passion for cooking at this expert level.
Q: Jerry, what made you decide to be a chef? What's your inspiration?
A: I've been cooking since second grade. I grew up in a scratch kitchen on southern comfort food. My mother made everything from scratch, and with four older sisters, you either helped cook or did the dishes. Everyone shared the work load. She is the reason I take pride in everything I do.
Q: So you knew right away this was your calling?
A: No; I first went to school for engineering. I was working in restaurants to put myself through school and realized that the thing I was really passionate about – cooking – was what I should be doing the rest of my life.
Q: What do you love most about being an executive chef for Eddie Merlot's?
A: Two things: the ever-changing environment, and being a mentor to other chefs. Eddie Merlot's gives me both.
Q: What is a ‘chef-driven concept'?
A: We lean on the talent of corporate chefs to create inspiration and come up with dishes, but then the president and owner decides which of those will go to local menus.
Q: What is involved in training for Eddie Merlot's?
A: It's an 8-week program. Everyone goes through all aspects of every station; that way we can work together and interchange if need be. It's very much a family-oriented team approach.
Q: Tell us about your menu.
A: Our menu is prime-aged beef and seafood. Each cut of prime beef is aged at least 21 days for tenderness and flavor. Everything we do, we do to perfection. The menu changes twice a year and we do seasonal specials as well. We also cater to allergies and specific needs. Our chefs are very well trained in this area; we know this is important to people.
Q: What would you suggest a first-timer try?
A: Whenever someone asks what cut I'd suggest, I ask them to tell me a little about themselves – it all depends on the person. Right now, no one can go wrong with the Coffee-Crusted Wagyu Strip. It is simply amazing.
Q: Okay, so beyond personal preference, educate us on steaks, please!
A: Just remember that the magic is in the cut of beef and how it's cooked. Most of the marbling on a filet mignon – the "queen of steaks"- is on the outside. A rib eye has the marbling throughout, so each bite is tender and like butter. However, the same cut of meat will offer a different flavor profile depending on how long it is cooked.
Q: Does your family request that you cook at get-togethers?
A: Always. I'm a steak-guy at heart, so I can typically be found grilling the family dinners…and I love every second of it.
Eddie Merlot’s is open Monday – Thursday 5-10pm; Friday & Saturday 5-11pm; Sunday 5-9pm.
The lounge at Eddie Merlot’s is open Monday – Thursday 4-11pm; Friday & Saturday 4pm-12am; Sunday 4-10pm.
Written by Annessa Chumbley, RD