Back to beef

Club Soda revives original menu

Filet with grilled shrimp from Club Soda. Photography by Neal Bruns

Filet with grilled shrimp from Club Soda. Photography by Neal Bruns

There’s something special about Club Soda, the downtown mainstay that’s all about steaks and martinis and jazz. Going on 15 years now, Club Soda has brought a cool, chic vibe to downtown, something that was sorely lacking when the restaurant opened in the former Indiana Textiles building on Superior Street.
Owner Noelle Reith said when Club Soda first opened, its only fine-dining competition was across the city at Cork ‘N Cleaver. Now, a dozen or more restaurants have opened that offer similar upscale eating experiences, such as Eddie Merlot’s, Chops and Baker Street.
“Each place has something unique to offer,” Reith said. “It makes you want to be better.”
In that vein, Club Soda is embarking on a revamped menu starting this month, with a return to the classic steakhouse dishes that it started with.
“We’re going to have more steak sizes, more cut-your-own steak sizes, with hand-cut steaks to order,” Reith said. “We’re putting lamb on the menu permanently. We’re bringing back the ‘Ring of Fire’ appetizer.”
The menu changes were prompted by customer feedback, she said.
“Our customers are very loyal and very honest,” Reith said. “We don’t think we know everything. We listened and we talked to some people, and we think this is the way to go.”
Chef Jesse Arnold, who has been with Club Soda for nearly a decade, said while “beef is beef,” the restaurant’s “foodie” customer base keeps him on his toes.
“I’m trying to do things differently. I try to mix it up, but it all comes back to the people wanting the core” of the menu, Arnold said.
One area diners will see Arnold’s creativity will be in the nightly specials, where Arnold will be experimenting with fresh, seasonal ingredients to invent new flavors. Salads in the summer, squashes in the fall — all will inspire Arnold’s unique creativity.
Another area where diners will see Club Soda’s creativity on display is in the new raft of cocktails developed by bar manager Cory Johnson and his team. One example is this month’s featured recipe, the basil-blood orange martini. It’s savory and sweet and tart, with a complex flavor profile that both hides and enhances the vodka.
“We’re ahead of a lot of places in town” when it comes to new cocktails, Johnson said. “It’s our duty to stay ahead.”
Too true, especially for a place known far and wide for its extensive martini menu. But it’s not only the martini list getting a facelift. In February, the restaurant freshened its house wines, replacing them with new products that have a higher quality and that better enhance the restaurant’s dishes, Reith said.
Another addition to the restaurant has been renowned local baker Chuck Kaiser, who bakes all the restaurant’s breads in house and who is also helping Arnold with the steak selection, Reith said.
Kaiser’s expertise has been a tremendous asset, Reith said.
Putting together a team of highly skilled professionals means Club Soda’s staff works like a well-oiled machine, and that’s led to kudos from diners. Downtown hotels routinely send their celebrity guests (Harrison Ford and Carrie Underwood, for example) to East Superior Street for dinner or afterhour cocktails, and getting a seat without a reservation is tricky even on weeknights.
“City Council members come down after their meetings, the Grand Wayne Center and the Marriott send their guests,” Reith said. “We’re all (part) of making downtown Fort Wayne have that big-city (feel).”
There are those who might argue that Club Soda’s original owners (Reith bought the business about three years into its life) played a major role in sparking some of that “big city” feel, thanks to their decision to house the stylish restaurant in an old brick warehouse at the edge of Headwaters Park. The fact that the restaurant has remained successful despite the economic downturn has meant that the business has helped anchor downtown’s revitalization. Reith gives credit to downtown’s rebirth to others, however.
“I love the fact that the city of Fort Wayne is so focused on downtown,” she said. “Instead of going out (to the suburbs), the city’s (staying) focused on downtown.”
Indeed, Club Soda has invested heavily in its downtown location, adding a two-story patio that will see a new awning this summer. With its new menu and new martinis, Club Soda is firmly committed to being part of Fort Wayne’s downtown for years to come.

A Martini from Club Soda
Serves 1
2 ounces vodka
ó ounce triple sec
3/4 ounce basil-infused simple
syrup (boil basil leaves with
2 parts sugar to 1 part water,
cool and strain)
3 ounces blood orange juice

Combine ingredients in shaker
filled with crushed ice. Shake
well and strain into chilled
martini glass. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.

First appeared in the May 2013 Fort Wayne Monthly

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