If you have never been to Nine Mile Restaurant out in the middle of nowhere along U.S. 27 south of Fort Wayne, just listen to the folks standing in line to find out what you are in for.
The parking lot is almost always packed and there is almost always a line. The proximity plays a role, but when you hear folks come out and tell their friends the wait is going to be 45 or 50 minutes, the response tells you there is another reason for the wait.
Good, we will just wait then, one lady said after her husband broke the news to her.
See, for a place that does things the right way – not the easy way – waiting that long is no big deal.
And the first thing I ordered proved why.
Nine Mile boasts on its menu that its onion rings are a house favorite. And they are a favorite of mine now, too. Blanketed in a crispy, flavorful batter, these big sweet white onions were about as good as onion rings can get. They were a little greasy, but who cares when it comes to onion rings.
That batter worked its magic on Nine Mile’s cod, too. The batter coated three big fillets of pristine white fish that were thick and meaty. And that meat was flaky, moist and sweet. And they were not at all greasy.
Given it was so good, I had to try the Mess of Lake Perch. A sign on my table boasted that the Indiana-raised perch came from Bell Aquaculture in Albany, which is the nation’s largest yellow perch facility. And, like the cod, these dainty fillets were of supreme quality in terms of flavor, texture and moisture, but the breading made them a bad choice.
Instead of that tasty batter, the perch was lightly dusted with breading. Mine, however, were buried in a terribly salty pile of breading that killed any chance the fish had of making me happy.
A nightly special made me very happy, however. The garlic-marinated sirloin topped with roasted peppers, onions and grilled shrimp had everything going for it. The garlic, peppers and onions made it sort of like a steak-lover’s version of a Chicago Italian beef sandwich; the steak was of very good quality for a sirloin; and the shrimp were big and perfectly grilled. It is the kind of meal that I would go back for often if it was a menu fixture.
The Nine Mile Burger is a fixture and it was simply a great, sloppy bar burger. This half-pound ground sirloin burger was topped with grilled onions and smothered in gooey melted Swiss cheese. The onions were buttery and nicely seasoned and this burger did not need any condiments. It was like a good patty melt except it came on a Kaiser roll instead of rye.
If you don’t get onion rings with your burger – and you really should – you might try the Buffalo chips. The crispy fried potato disks coated in spicy Buffalo seasoning were tasty. But the best side option is a salad, which sounds healthier but really isn’t in this case.
Nine Mile’s spinach salad is one of the best salads in the area. It is simple with fresh spinach, boiled egg and a load of crispy bacon, but it is lifted to an amazing level by the restaurant’s house-made sweet bacon dressing, which has a lot of bacony goodness (i.e. drippings) in it. It blew away the boring Caesar salad and even the respectable dinner salad.
The only real flop at Nine Mile was the baked spaghetti. I was really not expecting much because Nine Mile just didn’t seem like the kind of place one should order such a dish. But it was decent with plenty of meat and melted cheese, a sweet marinara and a toasty breadstick. The pasta was badly overcooked, however, and that held it back.
There is nothing that could hold me back from dessert.
Nine Mile proudly boasts that it offers Waynedale Bakery pies, and all of the ones I tried were great. I also recently found out that Hal Clinger and his daughter, Christine Miller, who operate the bakery don’t just supply Nine Mile with desserts, they love the place and have become semi-regulars.
The peanut butter cream was the best of the bunch with a pudding base strong in peanut flavor, but whipped to be light and fluffy. The peach had a thick crust, which was needed to help soak up all of the sweet syrup coating the still firm pieces of fruit.
Given it is always busy, the main dining room at Nine Mile is set up to maximize space. It is cramped and noisy. The bar room is much cozier with plenty of elbow room. But even in that bar, the service lacked. It was hard to get waited on at all let alone having drinks tended to or dishes removed promptly.
Speaking of drinks, getting something from that bar isn’t a bad idea, either. The soft drinks and coffee are OK, but the water and, incidentally, the iced tea has a noticeable mineral aftertaste.
But, like the wait to get in and the too-busy staff, the water is just one of those things hoards of diners accept when they head to Nine Mile. And I totally understand why.
It isn’t fancy, it doesn’t have much ambience, but there are far more rights than wrongs and it is a place I will never hesitate to recommend.
Restaurant: Nine Mile
Address: 13398 U.S. 27 S.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 6 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Smoking status: Non-smoking
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Onion rings ($5.49), spinach salad ($2.99), Nine Mile Burger ($6.99), cod ($10.99; 2- piece $8.99), perch ($12.99), steak special ($14.99), pie ($2.89)
Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).
Out of a possible five