Answers, opinions always available for carryout

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Given the situation we are all in right now, being unable to go out to eat is the least of our worries.

Though the state is on lockdown, heading to your favorite eatery for carryout is still an option, and, trust me, I have already had my share.

So with all that's going on, I figured there was no better time to catch up on some interesting reader questions I have received recently.

Are there any Sicilian pizza places in Fort Wayne? – Derek Hoffman, Ossian

It depends on what you mean by Sicilian pizza.

Many people consider any deep-dish pizza a Sicilian pizza. But an authentic – at least historically – Sicilian pie starts with a foccacia crust. That crust, which is basically bread, is the star of the show and is thick and soft like, well, bread.

The bread is usually in a square pan, and it is topped with sauce and other items and a sprinkle of cheese. So, if that is what you are looking for, your choices are slim. You can find plenty of pan pizzas and even cheese-heavy square pies, but those are likely Detroit-style pizzas and not Sicilian.

And to make it even more confusing, there are places like Mama Mia's, with stores on St. Joe Road and Dupont Road. They offer an Old Country Sicilian, but it is made with an extra-thin crust, so it is not at all traditional.

Big Apple Pizza, 1130 N. Wells St., is the only place I know of making a true Sicilian pizza. The Brooklyn pie is a 16-inch square baked in a pan. Owner Patrick O'Sullivan said the dough for it is hot-proofed for about two hours so it rises and becomes bready, has its own unique sauce and cooks for about two hours. So order well ahead for this $16.95 treat.

Why is it that “vegans” want their food to taste like meat: Patty melt, Coney dogs, Philly (steak), chili-cheese tots, bacon cheeseburger, wings, Impossible Whopper, meatless sausage patties, etc.? This is like admitting their pure vegetarian diet is tasteless. It's so bogus that they want a vegan lifestyle but crave the taste of meat, don't you think? – Dennis Sheron

No, not at all.

A high percentage of vegans are doing it for health reasons or because they are animal lovers. You can love the taste of bacon, burgers, etc., but eat healthier alternatives to improve your health or to simply feel better about yourself.

Why should a person on a strict vegan/vegetarian diet – especially if it was ordered by a doctor – not try to have what they love in vegan form?

I also know many runners who go vegan while training. They love burgers, so getting a plant-based burger before a race is great for them.

Also, consider that most vegetarians and vegans did not grow up that way, so it is natural that they would want things that they used to eat before making the change.

While I read and enjoy your restaurant reviews, I often find myself “downgrading” your ratings and avoiding the establishments after looking up the county health inspection results for the restaurant. I routinely check the county's food inspection results for restaurants I eat at often and for new places I want to try out (like those you have reviewed and sound interesting to me).

Maybe you can't include inspection results or even mention them in your reviews due to liability concerns, but perhaps you could include a link to the county health inspector's website so more people can be aware they can easily access the inspection results.

It's disappointing to me when I read one of your reviews and think I would like to try the place out soon, only to look and find my stomach turning at the inspection results. – Tim Cain, Fort Wayne

I put less stock in restaurant inspections than I do my own senses, but I agree it can be unsettling to discover that a place you like received a poor rating.

Sure, what happens in the kitchen isn't seen by the customer, but one can make a lot of assumptions from the dining room:

Dirty flatware or plates is a good indication that there is a lax attitude behind the kitchen door.

Employees out front not following sanitary rules – perhaps not washing hands between tasks such as clearing dirty plates and then grabbing food from the window – is not a good sign that things are any better in the kitchen.

Dusty windowsills, dirty carpets and overall uncleanliness in the dining room does not bode well for things being sanitary in the kitchen.

Our group goes out together every Friday night, and we can have between four and 10, depending on who is in town and available – usually it's six or eight. It would be very helpful if you could add an item to your summary at the end of your column, noting whether the restaurant accepts reservations. Many in Fort Wayne and the surrounding area do not and, with such a large party, reservations are a must. I know we can call and find out, but it would be helpful if we knew before considering a particular place. – Jim Smith, North Manchester

I am often asked to add additional notes to the bottom of my reviews on whether places are diet-friendly (gluten-free or vegan) to even whether they are eco-friendly, using biodegradable boxes, cups, etc.

I wish there was room to answer everyone's questions, but the list we have used for years is unlikely to change. There are some things that just have to be left to the customer to explore.

And when it comes to reservations, even places that do not normally take them would likely make room for a guaranteed party of eight or 10. Even if the website says reservations aren't taken, it wouldn't hurt to call a day or so ahead and try on those weeks you have the full slate of people.

I would also encourage you to not exclude a place that doesn't take reservations for your regular gatherings. Perhaps rotating designated seat grabbers each week would be a good idea. Have one member – or couple – in your party show up 30 minutes early to at least get you on the list. If that person gets seated right away, agree as a group to cover the cost of an appetizer for them as a thank-you for securing the venue.

Are you going to start reviewing home cooks now? – from many in person and on social media

That might be fun, but sharing food is not a good idea right now, and it would not be fair for me to judge my wife, given that I established her rating long ago (it is not stellar, but don't tell her I told you that).

But I am – and would encourage everyone to follow suit – using this time at home to do some real home cooking. I started last week with a homemade beef stock that I turned into an Italian wedding soup.

Then I turned out a mock pot pie made with puff pastry. And as I write this, I am watching a big pot of sauce bubbling away on my stove that I made using the skills my Italian mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law taught me.

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. Email him at rduvall@jg.net. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.