Dining Out

  • 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.
  • New look for stellar 'Garden'
    It was almost like visiting a new restaurant. And given all that Sandra D's Italian Garden in Auburn has gone through this year, the restaurant is sort of in its grand-opening period once again.
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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
The vanilla cognac brownie – one of the year’s best desserts – is flambéed tableside at Eddie Merlots.

Votes in for best of year

Critic highlights top restaurants, dishes of 2012

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Amy Walton adds bacon to a Parlour Pie at Tyeger’s Pizza Parlour in Bluffton.
Ryan Duvall | The Journal Gazette
Parkview Regional Medical Center, 11109 Parkview Plaza Drive, offers a California Cobb Salad.
Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
The Parlour Pie at Tyeger’s Pizza Parlour.

The past year was marked by the presidential election.

America chose to keep its leader for four more years, but adding four more items to the five I annually provide in each category for my best-of-the-year story was just too much. I will, however, offer you one more and list my six favorites this time around.

It is also worth noting that looking back at all of my dining out experiences in 2012, there was not one tea party.

Frontrunners

(Top restaurants)

Henry’s, 536 W. Main St. – This is not a bar-food kind of bar. It does have the best burger in town, but also has some real upscale fare and is a gorgeous facility.

Honey on the Table, 2461 Hobson Road – This sandwich shop opened by longtime culinary gurus Pamela Downs and Lisa Williams – and with help from Williams’ husband and bread-making master Chuck Kaiser – is fantastic. From tasty soups to delicious gourmet sandwiches to scrumptious desserts, it is a must-try.

Marko’s on 2nd, Decatur – Upscale Southern fare in a beautiful historic building. Chef Mark Graves is one of the best in the area.

Salvatori’s, 10337 Illinois Road and New Haven – Authentic, hearty Italian offerings make it a real jewel. The new location southwest added upscale atmosphere to what was already a perfect menu.

Tyeger’s Pizza Parlour, Bluffton – This Irish-themed pizza place puts out unique and delicious pies you will not find elsewhere. Worth the drive from Fort Wayne for sure.

Spyro’s, 6455 W. Jefferson Blvd. and 4410 Bluffton Road – It doesn’t get any better when it comes to breakfast.

Fast-food shout-out: I eat my fair share of fast food, and service in those places is rarely even acceptable. But all of the local Arby’s restaurants have really stood out, particularly the Stellhorn Road and West State Boulevard locations. The folks there have regulars they know by name, they are always courteous and friendly, and often do things the other fast-food places don’t. I wish all fast-food chains would follow Arby’s lead.

Primaries

(Appetizers)

California Cobb salad; Parkview Regional Medical Center, 11109 Parkview Plaza Drive – Chopped chicken breast, bacon, avocado, tomatoes and bleu cheese over romaine with a red wine vinaigrette. They are made fresh to order – as are all of the wonderful salads at the salad counter there – and you can add additional toppings. I like to add a little Parmesan, slivered almonds and crunchy fried Oriental noodles to mine.

Cream of asparagus soup; Honey on the Table – A blended soup with the standard carrot, onion and celery and, of course, fresh asparagus, and it had a creamy rich broth that seemed almost buttery.

Lobster salad; Marko’s on 2nd – Chopped Maine lobster knuckles and an entire claw sat atop fresh arugula heavily dressed with smoky citrus buttermilk dressing that was creamy, tangy and smoky. It was perfect with the peppery greens and sweet lobster.

Sausage, chicken and roasted peppers, Salvatori’s – A large crock of bubbling marinara, tender pieces of chicken breast, a lot of sliced Italian sausage, bell peppers, onions and Mancini peppers served with thinly sliced, toasted ciabatta bread. It was heavily seasoned and the fat from the sausage created a little pool of grease on top, but it had the kind of rich, slow-cooked goodness that screams comfort food.

Tyeger’s Classic Bread; Tyeger’s Pizza – The bread is topped with garlic butter, mozzarella, a sprinkle of basil and chopped imported Irish garlic. The garlic is the last thing added so it caramelizes and roasts under the heating element of the oven, which makes it sweet and a little nutty.

Yum Wood Sen (crystal noodle salad); Spice & Herb Thai, 8802 Coldwater Road – Six plump shrimp were mixed into clear noodles with bits of pork, green onions, shredded carrot, red onions, diced tomato, cilantro and peanuts. The light dressing coating it all was sweet but flecked with red pepper flakes to give it a little burn at the end.

Solid platforms

(Main courses)

Enchiladas, Downtown Deli and Marketplace, 236 E. Wayne St. – These vegetarian beauties were stuffed with goat cheese and enrobed in a velvety white sauce made from goat milk. The sauce had a wonderful peppery essence. It was flanked with a hearty portion of refried black beans and red rice. It is a regular part of the specials rotation here.

Lamb Chops; Liberty Diner, 2929 Goshen Road – These little chops are perfectly marinated in olive oil and spices and dressed with a little lemon. You cannot eat these without gnawing on the bone like a caveman to get every last bit of meat.

Mitchell’s Cristo, Mitchell’s Sports Bar & Grill, 5607 St. Joe Road – I can’t call it a Monte Cristo. It has the ham and it has the Swiss cheese, but instead of turkey it has bacon. But who doesn’t love bacon more than turkey, anyway? What makes it shine is Mitchell’s thick, soft French toast bread and the fact that the sandwich is properly battered and deep-fried. It comes with maple syrup or raspberry sauce for dipping.

Parlour Pie; Tyeger’s Pizza – It featured seven cheeses – mozzarella, provolone, Swiss, Parmesan, cheddar, bleu and muenster – with one topping of choice. I chose bacon, which the owner said was what he usually suggests with it. The cheeses melded together and were almost creamy. And the bacon was the perfect crispy, salty addition.

Spicy Pork Belly; Seoul Garden, 1820 Coliseum Blvd. W. – Prepared on a sizzling cast-iron skillet like a fajita, the sliced pork was fatty, tender and unctuous with just a little crispness on the edges. It was coated in a spicy red sauce. It came with crisp, fresh romaine lettuce leaves for wrapping, and it just got better with each bite.

Wey sandwich; Caliente, 1123 E. State Blvd. – This Mexican version of a Cuban sandwich has roasted pork, ham and cheese with a smear of refried beans, guacamole, sour cream, jalapeños and chipotle salsa.

Exit poll

(Desserts)

Compost cookies; Honey on the Table – Sinful little salty-sweet treats made with oats, chocolate and butterscotch chips, coffee, pretzels and crushed potato chips.

Gelato; Parkview Regional Medical Center – Several flavors made fresh daily from simple lemon to marshmallow-laden Rocky Road.

Koko Moko Pie; Red River Steakhouse, 305 E. Washington Center Road – Made with Edy’s coffee ice cream in a coconut-pecan crust and topped with chocolate and Kahlua sauces and whipped cream. It is impossible not to like.

Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles; Pembroke Bakery, 300 E. Main St.– The rich bittersweet chocolate in this gluten-free delight raises it above the normal doodle.

G.C. Murphy doughnuts, Cindy’s Diner, 830 S. Harrison St. – A retro classic made to perfection daily. They were dense and moist with a rich, almost malty flavor.

Vanilla Cognac Brownie; Eddie Merlot’s, 1502 Illinois Road S. – This big moist brownie is covered with hot fudge, pecans and ice cream, finished with Navan vanilla cognac and is flambéed tableside.

Newly elected

(New restaurants)

Bahn Mi Barista, 5320 Coldwater Road – This Vietnamese sandwich shop recently opened across from Walmart.

Dos Margaritas, 4230 N. Clinton St.– This beautiful Mexican restaurant, an offshoot of Las Lomas, opened in the former Ryan’s Steakhouse.

El Salvador Restaurant, 515 E. Jefferson Blvd. – Opened in August offering tastes of the country of its name.

Kim Vu Vietnamese Cuisine, 433 E. Dupont Road – Opened in a little hidden spot in the Dupont Village shopping center in June. Note: A review of this restaurant is coming next Sunday.

Shigs In Pit, 2008 Fairfield Ave.– The folks from the Mad Anthony Brewing Co. barbecue team started serving their offerings here in the spring.

Vito’s Pizza and Subs, 6533 E. State Blvd. – Ohio-based chain opened in the fall across from Georgetown Square and offers unique pies and sandwiches.

End of term

(Places that closed)

Aboite Grill, 10337 Illinois Road – Tucked in the Shops on Scott Road, this upscale continental restaurant gave way to the second Salvatori’s.

Chung King Express, 3101 N. Anthony Blvd. – A fire closed the doors in July and there are still hopes it will reopen. One of the city’s best Chinese take-out places.

Cosmos, 1425 W. Washington Center Road – This breakfast favorite was sold to Culver’s, which will open its third Fort Wayne location there next month.

El Burrito Colonial, 3422 N. Clinton St. – Little place with tasty authentic Mexican quietly closed and was quickly replaced with the similar Taqueria El Asadero.

Richard’s, 2912 Getz Road – Longtime family restaurant chain closed this store in July.

Stadium Bar & Grill, 2607 Goshen Road – Home of one of the best burgers in this city, the Stadium Burger, it went away in the fall.

Short term

(Places that opened and closed this year)

Ali Baba’s, 10812 Coldwater Road – It opened in the former Maza Grille spot just north of Dupont Road and its Middle Eastern fare was superb. But I will miss its Turkish coffee most of all.

Sushi West, 4036 Coldwater Road – A spiffy little place across from Glenbrook Square, it had unique sushi concoctions and some not-found-elsewhere Japanese dishes.

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.

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