Upscale Maumee restaurant delivers on promise.
The Historic Commercial Building, which houses Degage Jazz Cafe in Maumee.
Degage Jazz Cafe puts a major emphasis on fresh ingredients, creative combinations of flavors, and a menu that evolves on a monthly basis.
This approach is aggressive and ambitious and it could fall flat in the hands of chefs who reach too far with their dishes or make promises that can't be kept.
Our visits to Degage revealed that Chef Joseph Jacobsen and his staff not only match their stated standards, but generally exceed expectations with entrees and pizzas that present subtle gustatory surprises in an atmosphere that is refreshingly upscale without lapsing into pretension.
The restaurant's Web site notes that Chef Joseph was trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York; his dishes provide a nice balance of fanciful and commonsense. Meaning: nothing here is too weird, but it's obvious when you look over the menu that you're in the hands of someone who understands dining should be an experience rather than a chore.
Among the entrees we chose -- most of which have whimsical names -- the salmon ($23) was an inspiring one-inch thick slab of fresh fish, with toasted pecans on top and a bourbon and wild honey glaze, slow-baked in a brick oven. The nutty sweetness of the pecans, the slight bitterness of the bourbon, and the tinge of fruitiness from the honey combined with the robust taste of the salmon in a complementary melange.
The 14-ounce butcher's cut steak ($24) is touted on the menu as being dry aged in-house for 21 days. Served medium with just a blush of pink in the middle and a warm bearnaise sauce, this was a classy version of any top-notch restaurant's mainstay steak offering.
We were equally impressed with the ribs ($16/$24) and the "clucking Cajun" ($16). The ribs had no annoying fat to interrupt delivery of the meat braised in a root beer barbecue sauce. And the chicken dish featured a rich, spicy after-taste that revealed the chef isn't afraid to serve up a little heat among the chicken, garlic, mixed peppers, onion, and tomato served over fresh egg noodles.
Degage deserves credit for understanding that diners don't want to be cooked down to. We're OK with giving the Cajun some pizzazz or having creative fun with the salmon, but please allow the tastes to blend in favorable matches that make a meal special. Chef Joseph and his crew acknowledge that balance and where other restaurants might over-season the steak or get carried away with pepper and other spices that can be overwhelming, Degage uses flavor with confidence and class.
Sides included a sweet potato that was more like dessert (and we're OK with that too), garlic mashed potatoes, and grilled asparagus, all of which were served in portions that weren't overwhelming, but still managed to be filling.
And let's not forget the bacon jam tartine ($7.50) and mushroom and cheese tartine ($7.95) appetizers served on bread. The bacon jam version was a heady pairing of sweet and salty -- and how can you beat a bacon jam? -- and the mushroom and cheese version was a fine earthy companion to a good lager or full-bodied red wine.
Degage also touts its pizzas, which we explored on another visit. The barbecued duck version sounded a little too unorthodox to be good. According to the menu it is "Slow-roasted wild duck, house slow-simmered wild blueberry BBQ sauce, house four-cheese blend, white cheddar, gorgonzola, thinly sliced sweet purple onions, and locally grown apples."
So you've got duck -- a game bird, not generally considered on your average pizza -- blueberry, a series of cheeses including gorgonzola, and apples, among other things. On a $15 pizza. Remarkably, this was a serious winner that somehow comes together and avoids being a culinary train wreck.
The other pizza we tried was the slightly more traditional Italian ($14), featuring sausage, onions, pepperoni, bacon, mushrooms, the four-cheese blend, black mission figs, and seasoned arugula. This one was a bit like eating an Italian sub on pizza crust, which at Degage is a thin Alsatian version that holds up well to the pile of toppings, but the sweetness of the figs were obtrusive and seemed to come out of nowhere.
On return visits we'll experiment more with some of the pizza choices and perhaps order the Italian sans figs.
Our only problem with Degage was the lack of a highly touted chocolate cake dessert that was not available on one of our visits, which was a disappointment given the rave review our excellent waitress provided when discussing post-meal options.
Degage is located in the Historic Commercial Building in Maumee and as the name suggests is home to a wide variety of live jazz music. The dining room is divided into a quieter area away from the bandstand or a more bustling smaller room where the music is featured. Historic objets d'art are featured throughout the restaurant area.
Degage translates into "free, easy, and relaxed" in French and the restaurant more than lives up to its name. Add a few more adjectives such as "classy, tasteful, and delicious" and you have the ideal description for this top-notch northwest Ohio restaurant.
Dégagé Jazz Café
* * * *
Address: 301 River Rd., Maumee
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, bar open until midnight; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, bar open until 1 a.m.; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday brunch. Reservations are accepted.
Wheelchair access: Yes
Average price: $$$
Credit cards: AE, Dis, MC, V.
Contact Bill of Fare at firstname.lastname@example.org.