Another year has come and gone, and this last one was marked by change.
With the economic landscape still tough, we lost a lot of places – new and old – and saw others we thought were fixtures uproot and/or remodel. On the flip side, those tough times resulted in a lot of two-for-ones and other specials, which are never a bad thing for those of us who love dining out.
But regardless of how hard it was for restaurants to make a go of it, the ones that survived in this area still kept churning out delicious, innovative, impressive food of all styles.
Here is a look at some of those best tastes from 2009:
Top of heap
Best places I have dined:
Baker Street Steakhouse, 4820 N. Clinton St. – This relatively new restaurant has only gotten better since it opened in the fall of 2008. Top-notch steaks, fabulous seafood and great martinis make this one worth trying.
RittenHouse, Bluffton – A new chef from California, Hector Minon, and a switch to classic Italian fare opened my eyes and my palate. Everything is made from scratch, and the flavors are exquisite.
Don Hall’s Old Gas House, 305 E. Superior St. – A Fort Wayne classic got a new look and a new menu. It is now one of the most attractive steakhouses around, but it still maintains the Hall’s emphasis on value.
Salvatori’s, New Haven – This is my go-to place for everyday Italian. Owner Sam Leto has made significant strides to add unique specials to what is an already-solid base of Italian staples, and a coming menu change should include some of those tasty specials (linguini and clams in red sauce, perhaps?) as fixtures.
Caliente, 1123 E. State Blvd. and 2000 Brooklyn Ave. – Owners Gus Rodriguez and Yalili Mesa started cranking out Cuban sandwiches at their State Boulevard location in March and recently opened their second place. The homemade bread makes all of the sandwiches stellar, and the pastries – beef, cheese or mango – and Cuban coffees round out what I consider to be the Summit City’s best sandwich shop.
Whetting the appetite
Best first courses:
Sourdough bread, The Old Gas House – These small complimentary loaves are baked fresh on site. The bread is moist and doughy inside, and the outside is crusty with a zesty salt-and-pepper seasoning.
When Pigs Fly; Moosewood Smokehouse, 5910 St. Joe Road – Chef Mark Melchi smokes chicken wing-sized hunks of pork shoulder for 16 hours, breads them, deep-fries them and serves them with your choice of the restaurant’s signature sauces.
Gorgonzola waffle fries; Mad Anthony Brewing Co., 1109 Taylor St. – These big, crisp fries are coated in a super-creamy gorgonzola cheese sauce so good it could be served over pasta.
French onion soup; Baker Street Steakhouse – Chef Michael Benz uses a five-onion blend, homemade stock from the steakhouse’s Chairman’s Reserve beef and a little Medeira wine and sherry to create this wonderful soup. It is topped with a house-made toast point and gruyere and Parmesan cheese.
Mandu dumplings; Noodle Bowl, 10350 Coldwater Road – These morsels were perfectly steamed to be soft and chewy on top while the underside was fried to a dark brown crispness. The pork stuffing was moist and tasty with fresh, vibrant green cabbage, cilantro and other herbs.
The main event
Marinated rack of lamb; Baker Street Steakhouse – Benz French-cuts a New Zealand rack of lamb that has been marinated in olive oil, rosemary and garlic, broils it to a perfect pink rareness and serves it with saffron risotto.
Coffee-grilled rib-eye; Dillinger’s, Hudson – This 12-ounce steak is marinated in black pepper and rum-brewed coffee and then topped with a sauce made from that coffee. The sauce is runny and more like au jus and a bit sweet with a strong essence of alcohol.
Stifato; Southtown Inn, 6811 Decatur Road – London broil is cooked for more than seven hours in onions and wine, and is served over owner Bill Evans’ succulent Macedonian rice, which he cooks in chicken stock he renders himself along with garlic and seasonings. He only makes it a handful of times each year, so ask him to put you on the call sheet for the next round.
Sausage roll; Laycoff’s, 3530 N. Clinton St. – They are big with thick, crunchy crusts and are filled with sauce, loads of finely crumbled Italian sausage and as much cheese as they can hold. But it is a touch of garlic butter on the crust that makes them supreme.
Cuban sandwich ; Caliente – The shop’s magical bread with roasted pork, ham, provolone cheese, pickles, jalapenos (optional), mayonnaise and yellow mustard is the best version of this sandwich I have ever had.
Avocado-lime pie, RittenHouse – The avocado adds richness and body that normal key lime pie lacks, as well as the wonderful creaminess that is the best part of a fresh, succulent avocado. Minon’s yummy raspberry cognac sauce dots the plate along with confectioner’s sugar and chocolate syrup.
Coconut cream pie, Bob’s, Woodburn – The thick, rich white pudding base on this pie is chock full of tender threads of coconut, has a perfect from-scratch crust and is topped with whipped cream and a handful of toasted coconut.
Chocolate duo, Catablu Grille, 6370 W. Jefferson Blvd. – The lava cake in this duo was great – warm and gooey and all – but the little pot de crème blew me away. This chocolate custard was somewhat light in color, but it was even richer than the much darker cake. Its sumptuousness made it a dessert impossible not to savor.
Mayonnaise cake, Old Towne Diner, Leo-Cedarville – This triple-layered dark brown masterpiece beckons you from its cake holder on the counter. This super-moist cake is as chocolaty as it gets, and, even more important, it reminds me of my Grandma DuVall’s version, which she made with Miracle Whip.
Coco-mocha pie ; Dash-In, 814 S. Calhoun St. – This espresso ice cream pie is only available from May to September. It has a chocolate-coconut crust and is topped with chocolate syrup, whipped cream and toasted almonds. It is ultra chocolaty and super rich.
Caliente – Because it’s one of the best, it has to be one of the best new ones, too.
800 Degrees, 10020 Lima Road – Its super-hot oven allows gourmet pizzas to hit the tables quickly.
Noodle Bowl – This noodle-themed eatery combined Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese dishes on its menu quite successfully.
Loving Café, 7605 Coldwater Road – This little restaurant did not sacrifice flavor when it came to creating an all-vegan menu.
Will be missed
Pier 32, Hamilton – This awesome lakeside eatery was one of my favorites. The food was always great, the beer selection was one of the best I have ever seen, and sitting on the patio overlooking the water made for a priceless setting.
Hartley’s, 4301 Fairfield Ave. – This south-side fixture truly put the food first, and its upscale creations will be missed.
Ethiopian Restaurant, 2805 E. State Blvd. – One of my favorite new places last year, it did not last long. The tasty, albeit unconventional fare was a great addition to the ethnic food scene in Fort Wayne.
La Asiatique, 200 E. Main St. – Its closing left vacant one of downtown’s classic restaurant spaces, the old Park Place location in the Standard Federal Building.
Manila Grill, 9169 Lima Road – The closing of this little grocery and restaurant in the back of White Swan Plaza took Filipino food off the Fort Wayne landscape.