Fort Wayne = foodie heaven

I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to attend a media tour of Fort Wayne, which took place last Friday. Hubby and the toddler tagged along, happy to swim at the hotel pool and do their own thing while I was off doing mine. It was just a quick overnight trip, but man, did we cram in a lot of good eating.

The sheer number and diversity of restaurants in Fort Wayne is somewhat astounding. It is the second largest city in Indiana with a population of around 300,000, so I guess I shouldn’t be as surprised as I was to discover this.

I’ll write more about the other attractions we saw in later entries; for now, I’ll focus on what was perhaps my favorite part of the day. As part of the tour, my small group got to enjoy a progressive dinner at three of the best eateries in the downtown area. On top of a great lunch and sampling at DeBrand Chocolates, mind you. I’m not sure how everyone managed to keep going, but somehow, we persevered.

Our first stop for appetizers? The Oyster Bar. Those who know Fort Wayne are familiar, I’m sure. This old-school eatery has been around and operating in the form of a tavern since 1888. Today, it’s an upscale seafood joint. As a point of reference for Indianapolis folks – imagine a much smaller St. Elmo’s, but with seafood instead of steaks and kitschier decor. They do serve steaks and pasta and such at Oyster Bar, but ordering them here seems silly with fish of this caliber.

To sample all we could, we shared half a dozen or so apps around the table. Crab cakes, mussels, oysters, Louisiana shrimp, calamari strips… Oh. My. Grouper.

Oysters Rockefeller

My eyes nearly glazed over when the dishes just kept coming. All fabulous, mind you. The shrimp was spicy but not overpoweringly so, and the mussels fragrant and flavorful.

Louisiana shrimp

Now, I should point out that I don’t really care for calamari under normal circumstances, but I like it here, where it’s more like a tenderized fish stick than those nasty tentacly bits.

Oyster Bar’s signature calamari

I could have easily filled up at Oyster Bar, downed a glass of wine and called it a night, but there were still two restaurants to go. I paced myself with a few bites and held back.

Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Next up for entrees — Don Hall’s Old Gas House. Don Hall is a big name on the Fort Wayne restaurant scene with a handful of restaurants scattered around town, each with its own distinctive spin. One is a diner, one is upscale fine dining, one is a Japanese steakhouse (yes, seriously), and so on. There’s even a Hall’s Grill in Castleton for Indy peeps who need a fix. The Gas House is located along the river in, you guessed it, an old gas plant facility, and has been serving there for half a century.

My first meal at the Gas House was about 15 years ago when I was in town for a Barry Manilow concert at the Embassy Theater. (Those of you who know me personally are shaking your heads right now. For those of you who don’t — Hello. My name is Amy. I’m a Fanilow.) The ticket was a birthday gift from my parents and we met some of their friends at the Gas House for dinner prior to the show. Can’t remember much about that meal, except that I ordered prime rib and it was delicious. Barry was awesome, of course.

The Gas House has been renovated in recent years and the décor looks beautiful, very romantic and upscale. A perfect date night destination. During the summer, they also open a deck for al fresco riverside dining, which I imagine is pretty spectacular.

Our meal on Friday night was pre-ordered, so I didn’t get a look at the menu, although I would have liked to. Soon after we sat down, our plates arrived — sliced beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes, corn/bacon hash, asparagus and Hollandaise sauce. Yummy.

our entree at Don Hall’s Gas House

The meat was a little more rare than I would have ordered, but it was super tender and tasted great. I cleaned my plate.

Hall's Old Gas House on Urbanspoon

For dessert, we drove across the parking lot (it was raining, cut me some slack) to Club Soda. Love the name of this place. It’s also located in an old renovated building, but inside, it’s totally trendy with swanky martinis and contemporary cuisine.

Our desserts were already plated and waiting for us when we arrived — three big platters, each bearing a selection of gorgeous sweet treats. Strawberry shortcake layered into a martini glass, key lime pie, chocolate bourbon cake, crème brulee, a house specialty Snickers ice cream pie, and a couple of chocolate truffles. I nearly went into sugar shock just looking at it.

dessert overload at Club Soda

By that point in the evening, my stomach was reaching capacity, so I just nibbled a taste of the Snickers pie and the chocolate cake before tossing in my napkin and calling it quits.

Snickers Pie

Club Soda on Urbanspoon

With that, I returned to the hotel to regroup with my guys and beached myself on the bed for the rest of the evening. With a smile on my face.

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Recent culinary exploits and obsessions

A few foodie items I’ve recently been jazzed about:

My French Fontignac 5-quart casserole dish.

Last year, I just HAD to have a Le Creuset something or other. (I think I was probably inspired by seeing Amy Adams make a beef bourguignon in one in the movie “Julie & Julia.”) I settled for spending some of my Christmas money on a lovely blue Fontignac vessel I found at Bed, Bath and Beyond instead. This was a pricy piece of cookware – even on sale, it was still $80 – but I had visions of using it to make gorgeous stews and braises through the winter.

Long story short, this beautiful pot sat on a shelf in my basement until about three weeks ago. For starters, I was intimidated about using it. Secondly, I wasn’t quite sure how to use it. It wasn’t until I was in Ireland this summer and used a similar pot owned by one of my sisters-in-law to make curry that I got over my fear.

So a few weeks ago, I took a deep breath, dusted off my Fontignac and broke it in. I finally found out what I’ve been missing all this time. The inaugural dish? Braised country-style pork ribs with a bourguignon-ish sauce of red wine, beef stock, tomato paste and rosemary. The beauty of this pot, I quickly realized, was being able to sear the ribs in it, then simply dump in the sauce ingredients, put the lid on and throw it in the oven for a couple hours. The heavy cast-iron construction means this is a pot I’m likely to have forever. Oh, and the meal was fantastic.

Since then, I’ve used this versatile cooking vessel to boil water for pasta, to make a delicious risotto, and yes, to prepare a beef stew. Looking back now, I don’t know what I was so scared of. HUGE bonus, it’s super-easy to clean. No matter how messy it looks, whatever’s left in there scrubs right out. I LOVE this pot. And it’s so pretty, I just leave it out on my stovetop on display when not in use.

Fontignac casserole dish

Cherry pie filling and preserves.

I’m in a big cherry phase at the moment. Given the choice between strawberries, raspberries and cherries, I’ll take cherries any day. This preference is approaching something of a fever pitch lately.

It all started about five weeks ago during a freelance assignment that required me to stay in some bed-and-breakfasts in Southern Indiana. (I know, I know… it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it!) For one of the breakfasts, we were served buttermilk pancakes with freshly made cherry preserves from one of the nearby Amish farms. The preserves were presented simply in a little white ramekin, and they looked like edible red jewels. Absolutely gorgeous.

When I volunteered to make a dessert for the monthly teacher lunch at my son’s preschool last week, I came across a recipe I made some years ago for cherry cheesecake brownies. Decision made. This is a yummy and fairly easy dish to make – you make a brownie mix according to the directions on the box, then top it with a simple cheesecake batter and bake for another 20 minutes to so. When it’s cool, you cut it into squares and top it with spoonfuls of cherry pie filling. According to the thank you note I received, it was a big hit.

I also had intentions of making a strawberry shortcake for dinner at a friend’s house the other night, but the strawberries I bought were sadly disappointing. Cherry pie filling to the rescue! I bought a can and we spooned it over slices of pound cake and topped it with a dollop of Cool Whip.

Which brings me to…


I’ve come across two new cake recipes lately that I’ve been whipping up like crazy. The first is a lemon yogurt cake I came across in Molly Wizenberg’s book “A Homemade Life.” (She specifically says in the book that she thinks recipes are made to be shared, and I heartily agree.)

The recipe uses ingredients you’re likely to already have on hand, with maybe the exception of plain whole-milk yogurt (which you can buy by the single-serving container at the supermarket for less than a dollar). I’ve made it several times within the past few weeks – it works well with the lemon glaze as directed in the book, or with a spoonful of fresh fruit sauce (or cherry preserves!) Plus, you don’t have to use lemons – they are easily be swapped out for oranges or even limes would be good. The recipe makes one 9-inch round pan full, not too much and not too little, and the cake itself is bright, lemony and luscious. I made it for a book swap I hosted last weekend, and several guests took leftover slices home for breakfast.

glazed lemon yogurt cake

The second new cake discovery is the pound cake I made for the strawberry-turned-cherry shortcake. I found it on, one of my go-to sites for cooking inspiration, and it contains the surprising ingredient of whipping cream. Whereas the lemon cake is light and fruity, this one is dense and rich, but still plenty moist. With the cherry pie filling and whipped cream topping, it made a pretty and delicious dessert. In fact, I made another one to take to my cousin’s house today and serve it the exact same way. I’m also planning to try this recipe again with some chocolate chips thrown in the mix. Because, after all, everything’s better with chocolate chips…

Sweet dreams!