Dining Out

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Onion rings and prime rib, oh yum!

After journeying around Fort Wayne to find the best french fries for a special column that ran Feb. 2 in the Weekender section, a lot of readers chimed in to agree or strongly disagree with my findings.

Among them were Jen from Syracuse, who e-mailed to suggest I try tartar sauce on my fries instead of ketchup, and Erica from Decatur, who was upset her favorite place for fries, Coney Express in Southgate Plaza, didn’t make the list. As I cleaned out my inbox, several of these fry-related messages convinced me it was time to put a few of my hoards of requests and comments into print, including this one from Carolyn in Fort Wayne:

I appreciated your piece on where to get good french fries. I’ve lived in the Fort for almost eight years and cannot find a good onion ring. Have you ever had the onion rings at Clementine’s in South Haven, Mich.? They are the best – an inch thick and crispy crunchy beer-batter coating that’s tasty. And I haven’t found anyone in Fort Wayne who even comes close, but I haven’t made it a mission to get to every bar in town, either. Maybe I need to get serious about my onion rings research, or you could take that one on yourself. So, how about a piece on where to get the best O-rings?

Well, Carolyn, my doctor would probably not condone such an undertaking, nor would my waistline, but I did a little research on the onion rings I have enjoyed over the past five years and discovered I really haven’t found many.

Of Arnold’s Drive-In in Decatur, I said: “The onion rings were tremendous and are a must-have side with any entrée. They are cut nearly an inch wide, and the crunchy, almost bread-like batter separates these beauties from the frozen rings most places dish out.”

Of Baker Street Steakhouse, 4820 N. Clinton St., I said: “The buttermilk-battered onion rings were, indeed, colossal, crispy and not at all oily.”

Those were the only two references I found to really good rings, so, if anyone else has some suggestions, let me know so I can check them out and let Carolyn know.

Just once, wouldn’t you love to see an owner of a restaurant be honest and say they are closing due to the fact(s) that they have:

a) Ridiculously high prices

b) Questionable service at best

c) Not kept “up with the times” in the way of offerings

And d), which to some extent I will concede, location.

It is simply tiresome to hear people blame the economy. Cork ’N Cleaver doesn’t appear to be affected by the economy. Nor does the Outback Steakhouse near Coventry seem to be at a loss for business.

At any rate, I was just curious if you noticed this, too. – Mason, Fort Wayne

Honestly, Mason, I do sometimes chuckle at the excuses, but then I realize that most owners who have such problems don’t admit it because they don’t realize they have those problems. If they knew, they would probably fix them and never go out of business.

Watch an episode of chef Gordon Ramsay’s show “Kitchen Nightmares” – one of my favorites – and you will see what I mean about some owners being oblivious to the obvious.

And although they seem to be doing well, I am sure places like Cork ’N Cleaver and Outback have been affected by the economy, but they are probably better-equipped and -supported to deal with lulls than small, independently owned restaurants.

I also want to point out that, even with a lot of places falling victim to the tough times recently, in Fort Wayne we are fortunate to have a plethora of places still running strong and even more opening every day.

Just read Stefanie Scarlett’s column, “The Dish,” in our Living section on Wednesdays to see what I mean.

Speaking of Scarlett, the following e-mail came to me through her.

I’m looking for the best prime rib in Fort Wayne. I’m leaning toward Cork ’N Cleaver; thoughts? – Michael, Fort Wayne

That would be a good place to start, as would any of the steakhouses here, such as Baker Street or Eddie Merlot’s.

But for the more everyday variety, I would have to list the Don Hall’s chain, almost all of which always offer tasty prime rib. I also must suggest you take a short trip north to Garrett on a weekend to try the Railroad Inn’s prime rib, which is always perfect.

I really like your reviews and based on numerous conversations with others, I’m not in the minority. Since your column seems well read and respected, I thought I’d e-mail you with a minor complaint I have with most restaurants.

When I go to a restaurant, I typically order a beer (or two). I like to order what would be considered a “premium” beer or an import or something different (maybe a microbrew). However, most restaurants don’t have any kind of beer menu or even a simple list of beers. Since I like to try different beers, I usually ask the server what they have. Most servers do a good job of remembering what they have on tap and in bottles. But most servers can’t remember (or don’t know) the price of the various beers in the different sizes of glasses.

I would appreciate it if restaurants not only provided a list of their different beers, both on tap and in bottles, but also a list of their prices. This would make things easier for both the server and the customer. – Ryan, Fort Wayne

Well, not only do we share the same first name, we share a love of fermented hops. I, too, often order a beer with a meal, and almost always choose an imported or microbrewed beer over any wine.

I get frustrated, especially at a bar or tavern that I know has a cooler full of bottled beer, when I ask a server what beers are offered and all I hear are a few boring on-tap varieties like Coors Light, Bud and Bud Light.

Beer lists are a must, in my opinion. I also think featured beers are a great idea. Put a flier on the table with a beer of the week or beer of the month for folks to try. Not only does this promote sales of beer for the restaurant, it also shows beer lovers like us that the folks at the restaurant care and are knowledgeable about beer. And that goes a long way toward persuading me to order another round. Or two. Or three …

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130, or go to the “Dining Out” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net. DuVall’s past reviews can also be found at the Web site, and you can hear Ryan from 5 to 6 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.

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