Perfecting the details

Mastery is obvious at Catablu Grille

Catablu Grille's Chicken Meatloaf with Smoked Provolone, photography by Neal Bruns

Catablu Grille's Chicken Meatloaf with Smoked Provolone, photography by Neal Bruns

When you get the details right, it’s just obvious.

Catablu Grille Executive Chef Tony Valenza is enjoying the enthusiastic response to his latest meatloaf, one of a series of his culinary variations on the familiar theme.

As seen on the current fall/winter menu, it’s a chicken meatloaf presented in an Italian-inflected style informed by his personal style and expertise. It’s one of the most popular entrees, he said.

The dish has everything a diner could hope for: Classic seasonings of fennel, oregano and garlic with the meatloaf itself pan roasted to a “nice, crispy outside;” modern taste contrasts with the glaze of nectarine agrodolce; the colors of crushed red, purple and gold smashed, roasted marble potatoes served alongside broccolini and roasted mushrooms, and the texture contrasts. And don’t forget the nutritional value and health benefits. People come to Catablu because Catablu cares about those things, too.

“People love this meatloaf. It’s our biggest selling meatloaf of all time right now,” Valenza said. “People tend to want to eat it because it’s poultry. They can have their meatloaf and feel healthy about it at the same time.”

The entire Catablu menu is thoughtfully sprinkled with notations of which dishes (and there are many) are gluten free and which are “SP,” which stands for Simply Pure Preparation, made with no dairy or gluten and simply grilled or roasted.

“We try to accommodate everybody’s needs with their health and lifestyle changes,” he said. “We realized that, within the last three years with every menu change we do, we are constantly just being aware of that but not letting it run our menu.”

Catablu, owned by Michael and Maureen Catalogna, is a well established operation, long successfully settled into its Covington Plaza location, so a lot of details have been mastered.

Michael Catalogna handles the wine selections, which are an attraction for Catablu patrons in their own right. The famous wine wall is worth browsing, and it’s worth a visit there on Wednesdays when wines by the bottle are offered at a 20 percent discount. On weekends, specially selected wine flights – perhaps from a region or maybe a single vineyard – are available, supported by an informative card about them.

The entire staff contributes to the craft cocktails lineup, with the recipes that survive staff and customer taste tests making it onto the menu, Valenza said. The chef himself has developed a few cocktails, he admitted, but his interest turned another way. Instead of Valenza cocktail recipes on the Catablu menu, you’ll find house-made tonics, both quinine and hibiscus-lavender. They can be served with soda water or used as mixers in cocktails, he said.

Valenza credits his sous chefs, Chef de Cuisine Michael Mongiello and Chef de Partie Fletcher Brown, for their many contributions to the fall/winter menu and for the work they are doing on an upcoming new dessert menu.

There’s no wait to enjoy Catablu’s soufflé Fridays, though it’s recommended,  he said, that diners order their soufflés as their entrees arrive at the table to allow sufficient preparation time. The flavors change weekly.

Once you’ve chosen which special feature day to enjoy at Catablu – or just walked in to discover a happy surprise – the rest of your visit will simply be enjoying an expertly crafted, seasonal menu prepared and served by people at the top of their game.

Catablu’s Sharing menu combines its classic Crispy Brussels Sprouts, set off this season with an Asian nuoc cham vinaigrette, and Rice Fried Jumbo Firecracker Shrimp (breaded with magnificently crispy Rice Krispies and served with a sweet hot chili sauce). The Flatbreads are available for a $3 up charge in a house-made gluten-free version, and they include the always-on-the-menu smoked duck topping with fresh spinach, cilantro sour cream and roasted mushrooms dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.

The perfection of details arises again with the wedge salad, which has evolved to be a heart of romaine, not iceberg, lettuce, presented with candied apple smoked bacon, radishes, heirloom tomatoes and a blue cheese vinaigrette instead of the creamy, chunky, thick blue cheese dressing you might expect.

Valenza has noticed how much people are appreciating radishes lately.

“There are so many varieties. They add, one, a lot of color and, two, another depth of slight spiciness and crispy crunch,” he said. “Texture. People are all about texture nowadays.”

Catablu Grille

6373 W. Jefferson Blvd. in Covington Plaza
(260) 456-9652
www.thecatablugrille.com
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Fri, dinner Sat.
Specialties: Seasonal menu with daily artisanal specials. Menu highlights Simply Pure Preparation dishes and gluten-free dishes. Wine and cocktail features weekly.

Catablu Grille’s Bison Burger

Serves 4

4 6-ounce ground bison patties
4 brioche hamburger buns
Bourbon Flamed Apples (recipe follows)
1 pound Brussels sprouts (leaves separated)
4 slices manchego cheese

Bourbon Flamed Apples:
2 Granny Smith apples (peeled, cored, chopped)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup bourbon
2 tablespoons butter

Mustard Dressing:
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt

1. For the apples: Heat butter in a sauté pan until the butter browns. Add the brown sugar and chopped apples, and stir to coat apples with the sugar until dissolved and bubbling. Pour in bourbon and ignite with a flame until alcohol burns out, and continue to cook until apples are glazed and liquid reduces. Set aside until burgers are done.

2. Whisk all dressing ingredients in a bowl until well combined.

3. Grill or pan cook bison patties, seasoned with salt and pepper, until done, and place sliced cheese on top until melted.

4. Split burger buns and toast.

5. Toss brussels sprout leaves with 2 tablespoons of mustard dressing.

6. Place bourbon apples on bun, then the cooked bison patty with the cheese, top burger with the dressed Brussels leaves and then the top bun.

First appeared in the December 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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