Excellence extends beyond popular burgers
It’s hard to not be impressed with the rise Bo Gonzalez has had in the Fort Wayne restaurant scene.
He started as a teenager in 2011 with a hot dog cart that gained an almost religious following when he started parking it outside bars on the weekends. A year or so later, that cart became a food truck. That food truck then started doing burgers on occasion that gained an even more faithful following.
Two years after that, he went to brick and mortar with Bravas Burgers on Fairfield Avenue, and it quickly became one of the hottest places in town. But I wanted to be able to get hot dogs there, too, and went so far as to semi-harass his poor mother about it whenever I ran into her working at Pio Market.
Well, he finally added his famous hot dogs to the menu not too long ago and Gonzalez now calls his business Bravas Food. He still has the cart but also added a second mobile unit : a school bus.
There is also a working agreement with Wood Farms that has made his burgers more upscale. He sells a variety of Wood’s meats out of the case in the back of his restaurant where you can order a hunk of beef on one of Bravas’ weekend steak nights. If that isn’t enough, Bravas also offers chicken in sandwich and nugget form from Gunthorp Farms.
So though I thought he wasn’t doing enough with just burgers, I now wondered if Gonzalez was doing too much. Until I tried it all.
The dogs are even better now thanks to an upgrade to snappy Vienna beef franks. There were the classics like the Snoop Dog, probably the most famous Bravas dog with smoked gouda, bacon and a basic aioli. And for a while, the restaurant was offering a traditional Chicago dog that was phenomenal. It had all of the requisite touches : bright green relish, tomatoes, a dill spear, onions, fiery sport peppers, yellow mustard, sprinkle of celery salt : and it was served on a poppy seed bun, which was really going the extra mile to make it authentic.
The only tubular item I did not care for was the featured Fancy Dog. This bacon-wrapped dog was topped with blue cheese, fig jam and a little fresh parsley. I loved the crunch the bacon gave this dog and blue cheese is always a good idea, but there was so much jam it came off as too sweet. The jam was also very cold, which made it clash on the palate.
The chicken bacon ranch sandwich had a perfectly breaded and fried hunk of Gunthorp chicken breast. The coating was light but still had the distinct crunch you want from fried chicken. There was also no shortage of bacon, and the ranch sauce and lettuce were on the bottom so the chicken stood front and center. I loved it.
When it came to steak night, I was a bit torn. My 12-ounce rib-eye had no real faults : it was seasoned well, cooked to the perfect temperature, was a good cut and I liked the melting herb butter.
The salad that came with it was also fabulous. It had a nice mix of greens, cabbage, sweet cherry tomatoes and toasted pumpkin seeds that added a nice crunch. It was deftly tossed in a delicious vinaigrette to make it about perfect. The patatas : the restaurant’s signature fried potato side : went nicely with the steak, too.
All in all, it was an enjoyable experience, but I am not sure I will be racing back for it. I just don’t think my mind will jump to Bravas when I am in the mood for steak. And when I am craving Bravas, I don’t think I will be thinking about steak.
I will be thinking about burgers for sure.
The innovative toppings and unique blend of beef : each patty comes from one animal and the beef is salt-cured in house : is what brings me back. I prefer mine house-style with thicker patties instead of the thinner smash ones.
The Campechano was my favorite this time. It had a thin patty of chorizo : a family recipe : along with the burger, roasted peppers and onions, a creamy house-made Velveeta cheese sauce, pico de gallo and a spicy pickle mayo. The mix was wonderful and the patty, though a little well for my liking : Bravas did not ask my preferred temp : was still very juicy. The only thing I might change is using a fancier cheese. But I love good ol’ Velveeta and still happily devoured it.
The bacon double cheeseburger, made with two smash patties, was as straightforward as it gets with American cheese, grilled onions, Ossian bacon and dijonnaise. It was perfect; a great unmuddled way to enjoy the flavor of Bravas’ burger. It is the type of burger I would advise every first-timer to start with.
I also found a new favorite side at Bravas.
I enjoy the patatas, and the beef ’n cheddar ones were a great version using super-tender confited beef shank to give it a familiar pot roast and roasted potato vibe. But the shishitos fritos were the stars.
They were as simple as it gets as the little whole Korean peppers were deep-fried, drizzled with Spanish olive oil and dusted with sea salt. But they were addictively awesome and fun to eat.
Shishito peppers are, for the most part, quite mild and have that fresh punch of flavor like a good bell pepper. However, about one of every 10 of these wrinkly little peppers is naturally hot, so eating them is a game of chance because you never know when one will light you up. But I will play that game every time I visit.
The service was solid at Bravas, which is a fast-casual setup where you order at a counter, get a number and wait for the food to arrive. Though the menu warned the steak could take 35 minutes, mine arrived in about 15.
The atmosphere is still no-frills with just picnic tables. It makes it fun as you make new friends at those tables, but I think it is time to mix in some nicer individual tables. A place offering steaks as much as $60 could stand to be a little more formal.
I guess that is something I can needle Gonzalez’s mother about next time I go in to buy some meat.
Address: 3412 Fairfield Ave.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Snoop Dog (4), Fancy Dog (9 smash; 12), chicken sandwich (6), beef ’n cheddar patatas (6 full; 32)
Rating breakdown: Food: ** 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (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 firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. Past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. Follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.