The Phoenix

1126 Broadway

Fort Wayne, Indiana

(260) 387-6571

Hours: Lunch and dinner Tues.-Sat., plus late night, and Sunday brunch

Specialties: American cuisine with fine dining touches in a music venue

Phoenix's Smokey Sven pizza, photography by Neal Bruns

Phoenix's Smokey Sven pizza, photography by Neal Bruns

The Phoenix’s physical coming into being was slow – more than two years of careful renovation of the building at 1226 Broadway – but it’s hitting its stride as a gathering place, watering hole, restaurant and music venue with the fiery ascent one naturally associates with the mythical bird for which it is named.

Think of Phoenix’s development as a series of wingbeats, some of which have already happened and some of which are still in process:

It opened last August: Good word of mouth, and people started stopping by for a drink and a bite to eat after work. The dinner business started to build.

It hired Mike Bentz as executive chef, and a round of experimentation began toward a new deeper, better dinner menu.

It kicked off Sunday brunches: A Herculean effort enabled the staff to survive the January Beatles Brunch, but then they had learned what to expect from this city that loves its Sunday brunch, and the brunch process stabilized.

Lunch service begins this spring.

New dinner menu debuts.

Warm weather finally arrives, and the patio becomes a popular dining spot.

It’s all, as they say, good.

At the helm is owner Matt McCoy, who has already made a name for himself as the owner, for the past 12 years, of Baseline Communications, the company that runs fiber optics to cell towers, hospitals and schools and installs it for telephone companies, he said. The leap from telecom infrastructure to a restaurant/music venue is much smaller than it seems once he explains.

“I never really dreamed of owning a communications company, but when I was younger I did dream of owning a restaurant and a music venue. We are much more than a restaurant.”

A Fort Wayne boy, McCoy grew up on the north side of town, part of a mingled group of North Side and Northrop high schoolers who loved music and played in bands together and started college at IPFW in the ’90s. He also worked in restaurants, in the kitchen and behind the bar at Paula’s, Cracker Barrel, Hall’s, the Dash-In and Acme Bar. He never finished college, but he did go off to Alaska to work for a while, returning to help a friend start a business. Then he started his business, and that’s how he was able to make that restaurant/music venue dream become reality.

The circle didn’t really close, though, until he hired Mike Bentz as executive chef. Bentz was part of that high school crowd, and they’ve been in bands together. They share food as a passion, too, and Phoenix now benefits from everything Bentz learned from his time at Baker Street and Crave and with his still active catering business, Crackerjack Catering.

“He’s given me a lot of latitude to be creative,” Bentz said. “That’s when the magic happens. You have a good crew, and you put your heads together and plan out exciting things, features, our Sunday brunch.”

The most successful features from this winter will have won places on the new dinner menu, which, McCoy and Bentz agree, will move toward what the vibe of the place seems to demand. They see that vibe as “speakeasy or Chicago-style steakhouse.” Bentz waxes rhapsodic about steaks and seafood while McCoy comes up with musical themes to match with food.

McCoy works well into the future booking bands and singers to perform. At press time for this article, March’s calendar already featured Dave Todoran on March 8, James and the Drifters March 21 and The New Millennium Jazz Orchestra March 22. Jazz singer Jen Chapin, Harry’s daughter, was already booked for two shows April 4 “with a great dinner,” he said.

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