This is the first of a two part food tour through Fort Wayne, Indiana
One of my favorite things to do anytime, but especially during the summer, is explore the food and drink scene in different parts of the state. I recently made a short jaunt up to Fort Wayne and what was planned as a quick drive-by-eating at two or three places turned into a full-on foodie bender where I hit nearly a dozen spots in just under 48 magical hours.
I came away with so much material, my column turned into two!
Below is round one of a round-up of some of the highlights found in the walkable distance around the downtown area.
As any good Indiana foodie knows, making the pilgrimage to The Golden is a must. Opened by Chefs Aaron Butts and Sean Richardson, it’s not unusual to see other top chefs in there dining on their night off. Their menu features local, seasonal ingredients, a lot of creativity, and an insane beverage program run by Patti Nix and Sommelier Carmen Mcgee.
While I could have spent hours trying to get through the incredible dishes on their menu, I was in the city for just under 48 hours so I had something important to check off of my gourmand bucket list. The McGolden. Two juicy beef patties, beer cheese, dijonnaise on a honey bun. It’s the most perfectly elevated riff on any of the counter-style burgers you grew up eating, and loving, and I was there for all of it. Salty, cheesy, beefy, and melty. I lost myself in this burger and would consider doing a bevy of questionable things for another one. Usually, I’m a plate sharer but lord help the person that comes between me and this burger. In a word: Endorse.
First opened as a saloon, this Fort Wayne go-to has been around since 1888. It’s an old-school maritime tavern on the inside with quaint, fun patio vibes on the outside. This place serves up seafood and steaks in the traditional white tablecloth-clad style that always makes me feel a little nostalgic.
I started the night there with one of my favorite happy hour go-tos; oysters and martinis. Beyond their namesake items, the menu offers the traditional soup-salad-side addition to any entree and their chowder was thick and laden with tender clams. One of the more clever options was the share plate you can order to try more than one entree. If you see more than one item you like or are going for a surf-n-turf kind of thing, you can pair two half-portions of an entree, then they take the highest price of the two and add $2. My favorite dish of the night was the diver scallops dusted and grilled with a pistachio crust and lathered in a vanilla cognac sauce. Intensely rich and paired perfectly with the salt and smoke-flavored side of bacon risotto, this dish is a heavy hitter in the best way.
I love the way this place has evolved into the business it is today. Started in 2011 as a specialty hot-dog cart, then upgrading to a food truck that also served specialty burgers in 2012, Bravas’ latest iteration of itself is a brick-and-mortar burger shop where they butcher, cure, and grind all their meat in house.
The menu is comprised of Classic and Seasonal burger options and specialty hot dogs. I really enjoyed that you could order each burger “house” or “smash” which meant in a thick, loosely held patty or a smashed thin burger with the crispy edges. And not to be forgotten are the patatas prepared in a few versions of the the classic Spanish Patatas Bravas style.
Tolon is the brainchild of two native Hoosiers who grew up with an innate appreciation for the state’s agricultural heritage and that’s evident in the way their menus have been crafted. Placing themselves under the ever-popular “Farm-to-Table” moniker, Chef Matthew Nolot and wife Nicky have curated the vibe of their restaurant with a “Sunday Dinner” feel.
While I was only able to belly up to their bar for a quick cocktail, this is a spot that requires a return for food. I saw their “god’s butter” (bone marrow), steak and frites, and rabbit pot pie all waltz past and had some serious food envy. Meanwhile, at the bar, I enjoyed an ultra-refreshing Sloe Gin Fizz along with a drink I’d been coveting since I first began researching their menu, the Spring Training. This was a bourbon based drink with a tangy apple cardamom shrub shaken with honey simple syrup, lemon and egg white. Essentially, a Hoosier sour and it was lovely.
No culinary scene would be complete without some low and slow BBQ, and while in Fort Wayne, Shigs in Pit goes beyond to fill that need. You don’t have to pull into their parking lot before you smell their glorious smoker at work and know you’re in good hands.
Dine in or carry-out, you can order a simple sandwich or go for the full BBQ Dinner Plate offerings. Which is clearly what I did. Pulled pork, beef brisket, burnt ends. I was in heaven. The bark on their BBQ is practically perfect, holding in all the tender juices of the meat in with a nice outer crunch. Each BBQ Dinner Plate comes with two sides and garlic bread. Might I suggest the green chile mac-n-cheese and the green beans? For under $20 you can get a whole lot of food and probably have some leftover for your next meal.
Some great recommendations for drinks and desserts are coming in Part 2 later this week!