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The cinnamon roll is a favorite from Salvatori’s Authentic Italian Eatery in New Haven.

The best local eats of 2011

Brisket, tacos, even cookies top the list

Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Curtis Gregory, owner of T8ste Tizzzzz Bar-b-que & Soul Food in Waynedayle, writes down an order for ribs.
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Burnt brisket ends, available at T8ste Tizzzzz Bar-b-que & Soul Food in Wayendale.
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Still bubbling and fesh from the oven is a pan of T8ste Tizzzzz Bar-b-que & Soul Food “Knoc U Naked” dessert.
Ryan DuVall | The Journal Gazette
Papa rellenas, a dish of spicy seasoned ground beef enrobed in mashed potatoes tops list.

The financial state of our country has been a hot topic as 2011 winds down.

I have been able to “occupy” plenty of restaurants over the last year, but, for the most part, my choices haven’t been the kind of fancy places reserved for the 1 percent. I love finding places that offer more bang for my buck.

The most expensive dish on my list of last year’s best was only $13, and the cheapest was a real bargain at $2.

So no need to picket, boycott or demand change. Here are my top picks:

Best of the best

Rusty Dog Irish Pub, 32 N. Jefferson St., Huntington – Stunning atmosphere, whimsical theme and fantastic food, beers and blended drinks done in authentic Irish fashion.

Sandra D’s Italian Garden, 1330 S. Main St., Auburn – This cozy Italian eatery never disappoints and often surprises.

TW Fable, 360 N. Main St., Bluffton – One of the sharpest upscale eateries in the area, this Bluffton jewel also features a classic menu with modern twists that should appease diners from all walks of life.

T8stee Tizzzzz Bar-b-que & Soul Food, 2801 Lower Huntington Road – This tiny little place in Waynedale is knocking the barbecue out of the park. Everything is made with love, and the taste proves it.

Wu’s Fine Chinese Cuisine, 4411 Coldwater Road – Elegance seldom found in Chinese restaurants makes it a fantastic addition to Fort Wayne’s restaurant scene.

Best appetizers

Papa Rellena; Caliente, 1123 E. State Blvd. – The Cuban sandwich shop stuffs balls of mashed potatoes with a mixture of chorizo and ground beef and then deep fries them until crisp.

Boom Boom Wings; Mitchell’s Sports Bar & Grill in the Marketplace of Canterbury – All of Mitchell’s chicken wing sauces are made in house, and this was the most interesting. It is a creamy orange sauce with a little sweet heat.

Toast and Jam; Naked Tchopstix, 8607 U.S. 24 W. – A thin cracker made from toasted sticky rice topped with strands of spicy crab, which is dotted with jalapeño, sweet wasabi sauce and Sriracha hot sauce.

Duck egg rolls; Club Soda, 235 E. Superior St. – Southwest-seasoned duck from Maple Leaf Farms in Milford is sautéed with cabbage, carrot and other vegetables, then wrapped and fried until crisp. They are drizzled with Dijon mayonnaise and served with a more-sweet-than-spicy chili sauce.

Sausage and sauerkraut soup; Sutton’s Deli, 140 Public Square, Angola – Made with diced smoked sausage and a silky cream broth, it is meaty and a little salty with just the right sour vinegar bite.

Best entrées

Brisket, TW Fable – A modern spin on this barbecue staple featured thin slices of fatty-edged beef that were moist, succulent and lightly touched with a sweet red chile-lime aioli. They were artfully arranged atop a mound of perfectly wilted, sweet crunchy slaw macerated in red wine vinegar and brown sugar with grilled flatbread on the bottom.

Al pastor tacos; Tacos Arandas El Amish, 2012 Broadway – This is the only place in town that cooks the chile-seasoned pork on a gyro-style spit. The meat was tender with a sweet-spicy seasoning, and the rotating cooker allows each taco to have a beautiful mix of caramelized, slightly crunchy outside pieces of pork and soft, juicy slices from closer to the spit.

Burnt ends; T8ste Tizzzzz – The Kansas City favorite has come to Fort Wayne. These well-done beef brisket ends are probably the best barbecue dish in the area.

Breaded tenderloin; Alley Sports Bar, 1455 Goshen Ave. (inside Pro Bowl West) – Tim Didier Meats on North Wells Street supplies the thick cuts of tender pork, and the folks at the Alley hand bread them with seasoned flour and Asian-style breadcrumbs. The result is the best breaded tenderloin in Fort Wayne.

Lamb Vindaloo, Taj Majal, 6410 W. Jefferson Blvd. – Big cubes of leg of lamb cooked to perfect medium-rare temperature (still pink inside) and joined by equally sized pieces of potato and slices of onion in a dark gravy-like sauce with just the right spices and touch of vinegar to many levels of flavor.

Best desserts

Apple tart; Blu City Tavern, 2787 Maplecrest Road – The pastry is crisp, light and flaky, and it is drenched in a house-made caramel sauce, dotted with small slices of cooked apple and has a scoop of cinnamon ice cream right in the middle.

Chocolate chip cookie; Ziano’s Italian Eatery, 10520 Maysville Road, 702 E. Dupont Road and 5907 Covington Road – A 6-inch gooey, melty, freshly baked cookie is served in its baking tin with gobs of vanilla bean ice cream, chocolate syrup and whipped cream piled on top.

Cinnamon roll; Salvatori’s Authentic Italian Eatery, New Haven – Pizza dough is used to form what looks like a big sausage roll, but filled with cinnamon, sugar and butter.

Italian almond cake; Casa restaurants, four locations in city – This spin on a classic tiramisu features amaretto-soaked lady fingers layered with mascarpone cream and topped with crushed Italian macaroons and toasted almonds.

Knock-u-naked Cake; T8ste Tizzzzz – A gooey, rich, heavy cobbler-meets-crisp concoction made with peaches.

New and notable

Koto Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi, 301 E. Washington Center Road – Fresh seafood makes for fantastic sushi, and the teppanyaki grills aren’t a bad choice either.

Quaker Steak & Lube, 407 Coliseum Blvd. W. – Popular chain found its way to former Don Pablo’s spot.

Rancho Grande, 10366 Leo Road – Nice digs, great margaritas and more than acceptable Mexican offerings in this Leo Crossing eatery.

T8ste Tizzzzz

Tacos Arandas El Amish

Closed up shop

Beach Bums Gourmet Burgers, 620 W. Washington Center Road – A favorite of my kids who loved all of the sharks and sea paraphernalia; it also had some great burgers.

Coldwater Landing, 5820 Coldwater Road – This seafood-and-steak place only lasted five months after taking over the spot once home to Chappell’s and Joe’s Crab Shack.

New China Garden, 5745 St. Joe Road– Once one of my go-to places for Chinese, this beautiful place in the Marketplace of Canterbury got new owners and closed not long after.

Three Kings, 121 S. First St., Hoagland – After more than six decades, this small-town favorite closed its doors.

The anomaly

Chuck and Bird’s Bistro, 4301 Fairfield Ave. – This refreshing spot featuring locally produced foods made with upscale techniques would have made this list as one of my favorite overall places let alone top new places, but, sadly, it also closed.

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. Email 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.