How To: Impress Out-of-Towners

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In the late 20th century, it was a lot harder than it is today to find nightspots and eateries in Fort Wayne that would impress out-of-towners.

Nowadays, Fort Wayne is awash in swanky establishments, cutting-edge cuisine and masterful mixologists.

There are also a number of memorable and venerable cafes and chop-houses that have stood the test of time.

Here are 16 suggestions of places to take friends and colleagues when they’re visiting northeast Indiana.

When Club Soda opened in May of 1999, it was an utterly distinctive addition to downtown Fort Wayne. It was designed as a hangout for urban sophisticates who wanted to drink martinis, eat steaks, listen to music (mostly jazz) and smoke cigars.

The cigar thing didn’t survive the city’s smoking ban, and a revitalized downtown now has much to offer the urban sophisticate demographic. But Club Soda is still special.

Ambience is the reason. Take a visitor to Club Soda on a Saturday night when local R&B sensation Todd Harold is performing, order that guest a classic martini or an Elderflower and let him bask in an atmosphere that a younger writer than myself might describe as  chill. Your guest will go home and brag about Fort Wayne. I guarantee it. 235 E. Superior Street, 260.426.3442, clubsodafortwayne.com

Visiting Fort Wayne and failing to stop at Cindy’s Diner is like visiting Keystone, South Dakota and failing to stop at Mount Rushmore.

Cindy’s is even better than Mount Rushmore, because Mount Rushmore doesn’t do anything. It’s just there. Cindy’s is far livelier.

Cindy’s is a 15-seat diner named for Cindy Schelle, who used to own it with her husband, John. Former waitress Angie Harter, aka “The Brat,” took over in 2016.

Cindy’s is not a place to go if you don’t like talking to your fellow customers. Chances are that you are shoulder to shoulder with them. People come to Cindy’s for the food and they come for the badinage: the banter and the good-natured joshing.

Everything on the Cindy’s menu is good, but the thing to order is the Garbage, which is like a blended omelet or Extreme Scrambled Eggs.

Cindy’s also has Murphy’s doughnuts made in an antique machine rescued from a long-defunct downtown drug store. 230 W Berry Street, 260.422.1957

Wine Down Tastings & Tapas, which opened at the Harrison in 2015, is nirvana for wine lovers.

It features wine vending machines. You can order full glasses of wine, of course, but the thing to do is to get one of Wine Down’s wine cards and spend your evening sampling from among roughly 50 varieties.

Wine Down also has great food and a patio that overlooks Parkview Field, Fort Wayne’s minor league baseball stadium.

In 2016, Wine Down added a container bar with more outdoor seating called the Sidecar. 301 W. Jefferson Boulevard, 260.755.1019, winedownfw.com 

Powers Hamburger Shop is an art deco diner that opened in Fort Wayne in 1946.

It was part of a Michigan chain started by brothers Dale, Clell, Harold and Leo Powers in the mid-1930s. The Powers restaurant in Fort Wayne is the only one that survives.

Powers Hamburger specializes in sliders, tiny hamburgers that were popularized by the White Castle chain and which started appearing in fancier incarnations on gastropub menus a few years back.

Powers’ sandwiches are known colloquially as onion burgers, because each one is topped with about 1/8th of a cup of fried onions. Powers’ sliders aren’t date food, in other words, unless you know your date very well.

Aficionados of inexpensive nosh from across the country have been known to make pilgrimages to Powers to try the sliders. Some have said that Powers serves the best sliders outside of New Jersey, widely considered the birth state of the all-American delicacy. 1402 Harrison Street, 260.422.6620

Chop’s Steak & Seafood is one of Fort Wayne’s more venerable fine dining options. It has been a dependable place to get top-quality and superlatively prepared beef, pork and seafood for a great while.

The adjacent Chop’s Wine Bar opened in 2009. The wine bar is a cozy establishment offering wine and bourbon flights and an ever-changing menu of ingenious small-plate items. 6421 W. Jefferson Boulevard, 260.436.9115, chopsdine.com

Catablu Grille originally opened in 1998 in a remodeled, historic downtown theater. Roughly a decade later, the restaurant moved southwest to its current home in Covington Plaza.

Regardless of the change of locale, Catablu’s values have remained the same: great food, inventive drinks and a relaxed, upscale atmosphere. Menu items favored by regulars include the lobster mac and cheese, the smoked duck flatbread and the black and blue ribeye (with Stilton cheese). 6372 W Jefferson Boulevard, 260.456.6563, thecatablugrille.com

Eddie Merlot’s is a national restaurant chain that was launched in Fort Wayne in 2001. Owner Bill Humphries wanted the prime beef and seafood eatery to evoke classic upscale steakhouses, and it really does that. A lounge area, with its stained glass and long, marble-topped bar, is reminiscent of a historic New York hotel.

Memorable menu items include the Wagyu bone-in New York Strip by Greg Norman Signature, the bison ribeye, the bison filet, the dry aged prime Tomahawk ribeye, filet mignon potstickers and ahi tuna wontons and crab-stuffed shrimp with parmesan-tabasco cream. 1502 Illinois Road South, 260.459.2222, eddiemerlots.com

Opened in 2009, the goal of Baker Street Steaks, Seafood and Spirits was to procure and prepare steaks in a way that was unprecedented for Fort Wayne at the time. The restaurant’s many devotees might say, “Mission accomplished.”

Distinctive beef dishes include the bacon & egg ribeye, the bleu-glazed filet, the lobster-crowned filet and the New Orleans strip. Other notable specialties include the jambalaya, the grouper medallions and the Cajun chicken sandwich.Baker Street is also known for its gluten-free menu.

Finish off with the carrot cake (which is decidedly not gluten-free). 4820 N Clinton Street, 260.484.3300, bakerstreetforwayne.com

For more than 40 years, Cork ‘N Cleaver has been Fort Wayne’s fancy restaurant of choice for people celebrating anniversaries, birthdays and other commemorations.

It opened in 1974 and was originally part of a nationwide group of 78 restaurants. Only the Fort Wayne and Evansville locations remain.

Cork ‘N Cleaver is known for its beef, which is aged for 45 days then hand-cut on site. Daily menus are printed on meat cleavers, a distinctive touch that has entertained diners for decades.

Cork ‘N Cleaver has many claims to fame, but its biggest might be its salad bar. There is not another salad bar like it in Fort Wayne. It claims the salad bar always features at least 50 items, including caviar, anchovies, creamed herring, artichoke salad…even jelly beans.

“p1″>The Cork ‘N Cleaver filet mignon has been described as “melt in your mouth,” but there are other great options including the bacon-wrapped pork tenderloins served over sweet potato hash. 221 East Washington Center Road, 260.484.7772, corkncleaveronline.com

In 2015, longtime local chef Matthew Nolot opened Tolon (his last name spelled backwards). His goal was to offer locally sourced, farm-to-fork dining in Fort Wayne’s epicenter. Tolon is one of those newer establishments that really serves to show how far downtown Fort Wayne has come.

Its most popular items are creations that were never before seen on a Fort Wayne menu: duck fat frites, God’s butter (roasted bone marrow) and deviled eggs with miso and sriracha. The house-made ice creams are always surprising and tasty.

If you are bringing in a self-described foodie from out of town, Tolon is one of the places to take him or her. It is not at all uncommon to hear reports of visitors from bigger cities who were wowed by Tolon’s fare, ambience and service.

Another big selling point of Tolon is its affordability when compared, for example, to Fort Wayne’s higher-end steakhouses. 614 Harrison Street, 260.399.5128, tolonrestaurant.com

In 2014, Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding.

Despite being named for a Brooklyn neighborhood, the Coney dog (frankfurter, mustard, fresh onions and chili sauce) is a largely Midwestern phenomenon.

It is not known where and when the Coney dog was first offered publicly, but Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island is a strong candidate. Another is Todoroff’s Original Coney Island of Jackson, Michigan. Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island and Todoroff’s both opened in 1914.

Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island, which probably doesn’t look a whole lot different today than it did 100 years ago, serves up to 1,500 and 2,000 hot dogs per day. 131 W Main Street, 260.424.2997, fortwaynefamousconeyisland.com

When you tell non-Hoosiers that Debrand Fine Chocolates offers the finest chocolate in Fort Wayne, they have no trouble believing you. When you tell them it may be the finest chocolate in the country, they start to have trouble believing you.

When you tell them that Debrand’s chocolate is among the finest in the world, they’re often incredulous.

So here’s what you do: Take your out-of-town friends on a tour of the Auburn Park Drive facility, encourage them to try a few samples and see if they don’t go home and arrange to have Debrands chocolate shipped to everyone they love. 10105 Auburn Park Drive, 260.969.8333, debrand.com

A few miles outside of Fort Wayne, you’ll find one of the best restaurants in the state, Joseph Decius.

Nearly 20 years ago, Hoosier entrepreneur Pete Eshelman opened the restaurant as a way to help revitalize tiny Roanoke. Joseph Decuis’ claim to fame is Wagyu beef, which is raised on a nearby farm owned by Eshelman.

Wagyu is a Japanese breed known for uncommon tenderness and flavor. Wagyu is becoming increasingly common on American menus, but Joseph Decuis is one of the only restaurants in the country to raise its own.

Popular menu items at Joseph Decuis include Wagyu toast, Wagyu tartar, Mangalitsa T-Bone (from a rare breed of pig that is also raised by Eshelman), and Shabu Shabu, a multiple course Japanese-inspired meal. 191 N Main St, Roanoke, 260.672.1715, josephdecuis.com

Cerulean, opened in 2006, was the first restaurant in northeast and north central Indiana to offer tapas. Tapas, a Spanish word referring to appetizers or snacks, is a bit of a misnomer. Some foodies believe that tapas should only be used to refer to Spanish dishes.

At any rate, Cerulean offered a menu of small plates – dishes designed for sampling, sharing, and for ordering in abundance – long before any Fort Wayne restaurant did.

Cerulean was also a Hoosier leader in the farm-to-fork concept. It is located on a picturesque canal, is as worth the drive from Fort Wayne as it ever was.

In 2010, it added a delightful outdoor patio called the Garden with its own bar and menu. 1101 E. Canal St., Winona Lake, 574.269.1226, ceruleanrestaurant.com

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