Dining Out

  • The Deck boasts mix of Hall’s staples, unique finds
    It took me long enough, but more than a decade since it opened, I finally found my way to The Deck.I wish I had gone sooner.The Hall’s-owned patio bar/restaurant along the St.
  • Burger surprises at Mexican restaurant
    I never expected that a burger and some bacon-cheese fries would be highlights of my visits to this little diner in Waynedale.
  • Nothing to mock at lunch stop
    It had everything I could want in a sandwich place. It had a streamlined – but diverse – menu with about as many locally sourced ingredients as possible.
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Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
The strawberry and chocolate cheesecake at Beach Bums is easy to devour.
Best of 2010

A flavorful year

Critic savors memory of favorites, notes changes on restaurant scene

Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Black Dog Pub and its hand-breaded mushrooms are tops.
Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Joseph Decuis in Roanoke – and chef Aaron Butts’ pasta Bolognese – earned high praise this year.

There were many new ventures, a few adventures and not as many failures in the Fort Wayne restaurant scene in 2010.

Many of the new ventures came in the form of popular national chains (now, if only P.F. Chang’s would take note). The adventures came in the form of unique places – Mideastern and tapas, for example – that have hit the Summit City. And I struggled this year to list notable closings as I assembled this highlights list, which says something about how restaurants are on the upswing from the poor economy.

Top billing

The best places I visited in 2010:

Baker Street, 4820 N. Clinton St. – From the appetizers to the steaks to the fantastic service chef Michael Bentz and his folks provide, it is easily my favorite place to go right now. The place also recently added lunch hours so you can enjoy more of a good thing.

Black Dog Pub, 6230 Covington Road – The made-with-love offerings here really blew me away. It is bar food done the right way.

Cerulean, Winona Lake – One of northeast Indiana’s hippest eateries, it has stayed on the cutting edge with an outdoor beer garden in the summer, where a chef cooks up elegant tapas dishes just a few feet away from your table at an outdoor kitchen, and its own brand of gourmet coffee, which is roasted at the restaurant and brewed to order in French presses at the table.

Joseph Decuis, Roanoke – No restaurant uses a finer array of gourmet ingredients or better represents the farm-to-table concept. If you are a true foodie, this place is heaven.

Lake of the Woods Tavern, Hudson – Live Maine lobster at ridiculously low prices that is cracked and served tableside makes this hidden gem one of my favorites.

Opening acts

Best first courses:

Crab Rangoon, China Garden, 5441 S. Anthony Blvd. – This store front place served me some of the best crab Rangoon I have ever had. They were piping hot, crisp and not at all oily, and the cream cheese inside was plentiful and sweeter than what I am used to, with tiny bits of imitation crab visible.

Hand-breaded mushrooms, Black Dog Pub – Whole white mushrooms were dredged and fried until super-crisp. A sprinkle of freshly shredded parmesan on top was a plus, and every bite of these crunchy, meaty ’shrooms was fantastic.

Mediterranean-style mussels, Casa Grille Italiano, 6340 Stellhorn Road This seasonal offering featured mussels simmered with red plum tomatoes, garlic and white wine, and they were delicious.

Pork rinds, Chop’s Wine Bar, 6421 W. Jefferson Blvd. – The fresh pork rinds arrived still sizzling. Lightly dusted with a salty, mildly spicy seasoning, they were crunchy but melted in your mouth.

Tuscan potato soup, Boathouse, Winona Lake – Large pieces of sweet red potato joined zesty Italian sausage and kale in a light, loose chicken broth dotted with red pepper flakes and topped with fresh parmesan cheese.

Main events

Best entrées:

Bone-in filet, Baker Street, 4820 N. Clinton St. – This 14-ounce cut of beef was as tender and succulent as any steak I have had in years. I had mine dressed up with a peppercorn and sea salt crust, which was seared on beautifully and seasoned it perfectly.

Coffee-crusted rib-eye with bleu cheese compound butter, Timbuktoo’s, Fremont – The charred coffee formed a crust when seared that gave way to the rib-eye’s tender, pink and juicy center. The coffee rub also had a subtle sweetness to it, which was perfectly cut by the chunky pat of bleu cheese butter.

Northern Italian turkey salad, Anastasia’s Café, 5723 Coventry Lane – The turkey salad was probably the most unusual and impressive I have ever eaten. Julienne strips of succulent Boar’s Head smoked turkey were tossed with zesty red onion, sweet and smoky roasted red peppers, and fresh parsley in a red wine vinegar dressing.

Pasta Bolognese, Joseph Decuis, Roanoke – Locally raised veal and pork and Wagyu beef were used to make the somewhat creamy, light brown sauce, which had a strong, meaty aroma and just a hint of sweetness. It was served with perfectly executed homemade pappardelle pasta and topped with wilted Swiss chard, which provided textural diversity and bitterness. It is the best pasta I have ever eaten.

Tuna, Switta Thai, 3820 Challenger Parkway – It is available only occasionally as a special, and I wish it was a permanent part of the menu. The marinated tuna was simply seasoned with salt, pepper and basil and seared, and beautifully paired with spicy green-curry fried rice and zesty Thai-seasoned fresh California vegetables.

Encores

Best desserts:

Cookies, Bread Basket, Auburn – The cookies here were pretty much perfect – crunchy upon first bite, but the exterior gave way to a moist, soft center.

Cheesecake, Beach Bums, 620 W. Washington Center Road – This cake was so smooth, light and airy, it was hard to believe it was cheesecake. Topped with strawberries or chocolate, or both, it was heavenly.

Mango sticky rice, Switta Thai – My wife and kids go nuts for this stuff, and I dig it, too. The dish is simple but scrumptious with just mounds of the sweet, sticky rice and slices of perfectly ripe mango artfully displayed on a plate with coconut cream and a sweet, green, pandan leaf-based sauce, and the restaurant’s name stenciled in cinnamon and sugar.

No. 36 Caramel Crunch sundae, The White Cottage, Berne – Saltiness and nuttiness were a big part of this ice cream creation, which had creamy vanilla ice cream packed into a 12-ounce plastic cup with crunchy cashews, salty pretzel sticks, crumbled Heath candy bars and thick caramel nicely layered throughout. You will have to drive a bit farther south to get one now, however, as the Berne restaurant recently closed and is readying to reopen this month in Portland as The Cottage Grill and Creamery.

Ozzy’s crepes, Ozzy’s House of Pancakes, 4610 Coldwater Road – The three light, slightly chewy folded beauties in this dish were just a little brown around the edges, and inside each were chopped bananas and pecans. There were more bananas covering the top, along with chunks of pineapple and what must have been half a can of whipped cream. No syrup was needed, thanks to the cream and a drenching from the butter they were cooked in.

New to the scene

Acme Bar and Grill, 1105 E. State Blvd. – Great to see this legendary place resurrected, and to see it get such a beautiful and much-needed facelift in the process.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries, 801 Northcrest Shopping Center – Can you ever have too many good burger joints? I think not.

McAlister’s Deli, 1310 Illinois Road – The popular chain is a perfect fit for the Jefferson Pointe area.

Maza Grille, 10812 Coldwater Road – Finally, someone is serving Mideastern cuisine in the Summit City and doing it well.

Sayonara

El Patron, 4541 Illinois Road – The second Mexican chain restaurant to give it a go in this spot – Hacienda was first – closed after a nearly three-year run.

Hardee’s, 6279 E. State Blvd. – I had a special little place in my heart for this fast-food chain. The big burgers they specialized in were about the worst thing you could eat health-wise, but man, were they tasty.

Yokohama, 918 Woodland Plaza Run – This Japanese restaurant, which was a staple on Coldwater Road for years, moved to Woodland Plaza near Pine Valley Shopping Center in 2006 and just sort of faded away.

Flapjack flops – In a city that seemingly can never have enough pancake houses, a couple of such places opened and closed in 2010 – Blueberry Hill, at 3710 E. State Blvd., and Norma’s Pancake House, 702 E. Dupont Road.

Lights out on Broadway – I had to include a place that didn’t go away for good but just moved away from its beautiful original location. Chappell’s Coral Grill left its original spot at 2723 Broadway and chose Covington Plaza as its new home. It was the second straight year a noted restaurant left Broadway in favor of the shopping center on West Jefferson Boulevard. Catablu was the first to pull up stakes. It made me sad to see these two leave their beautiful original homes.

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. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net, and you can hear Ryan from 3 to 4 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.

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