Getting comfortable at The Golden

Expect the unexpected, only it's not

The Golden's Hummus, photography by Neal Bruns
The Golden's Summit Sour, photography by Neal Bruns

Here’s a prediction: As it gracefully ages, downtown Fort Wayne’s The Golden (right now the glittering new kid on the block among our restaurants and bars) will become familiar to its large number of fans as the most predictably unpredictable place around.

Why? Two reliable reasons support this prediction.

1. It’s based on the seasons, which are predictable and which produce food on a predictable cycle.

2. It’s based on the creativity of its chefs and bartenders, who delight in both the perfection of classic recipes (did you try the BLT they were serving last month?) and the craftsmanship of looking at the fresh, local-as-possible food they have on hand each day and making the best-tasting dishes (did you try the meatloaf that became a rustic farmhouse paté they also served last month?) they can out of it.

The craft cocktails follow this predictably unpredictable idea, too, because under the direction of Head Barkeep Patti Nix, the recipes are original, hence some unpredictability, but they are also adhered to so you can count on enjoying the same drink time after time when you order it, which is a point of pride for Sommelier Carmen McGee, who is also our Summit City Somm columnist.

That’s what to expect when you enter The Golden. Whatever is in season – here, now – tasting the best it possibly can. Chef/owners Aaron Butts and Sean Richardson, interviewed with McGee, who is married to Butts, candidly admit they will figure out how to deal with the “what’s in season now” question when they come to it this winter. Actually, they already have talked with their local farmers and know who has hoop houses and what they will be producing there in cold weather.

“You do the best you can,” Richardson said, “and that’s what people need to realize. We now know what it takes, and sometimes what that means is we’ll come in some mornings and say ‘Well, we can’t have that on the menu today because we don’t have the ingredients.'”

So they create a rustic farmhouse paté, for example, to serve instead.

Through summer, even the basic staples like potatoes, garlic and onions were coming from area farms.

“That’s a real commitment, I think, to the philosophy,” Butts said. “Now it’s easier to do that. There will come a time when you can’t get 50 pounds of potatoes and onions a week from your farms.”

To be as thoroughly farm-to-fork as they are, they work with more sources for their food, more farms in their case, than most restaurants.

“Since we have opened, the menu has changed every single shift,” McGee said. “We run out of something, and we put something else on.”

So far, only the McGolden (their version of a cheeseburger) and the veal sweetbreads have consistently been on the menu.

“It really spurs creativity,” Butts said.

That urge to do something else, something different, is both the heart of The Golden and what got it started. Its first iteration was as a pop-up cocktail bar. As Butts describes it: “Two chefs trying to get out of the kitchen and do something else. Shake some cocktails.”

The Golden is designed around the custom Hestan kitchen, the only one in the state and the same brand represented by spokesperson Thomas Keller of the legendary French Laundry restaurant in California.

“Once we started with this piece,” Butts said, “everything else had to be built to match the quality around it.”

Including the bar, which features a big, white quartz bar top wrapped around a high back bar displaying many, many fine liquors and spirits.

For all the talk of philosophy and despite how downright serious The Golden is about being more farm-to-fork than anyone, it’s notable what Butts says first when asked to summarize what people can expect when they come to The Golden.

He says: “Good times!” And the restaurant’s T-shirts, which are for sale, do say “Party on Wayne” on the front, for what that’s worth.

The answer fills out with: “Expect good food. High quality. Great, fresh, high-quality ingredients,” chorused in by his partners.

Richardson sums it all up.

“One of the best compliments I have gotten so far is from a businessman who said he will order stuff here he will never order anyplace else because he knows it’s going to taste good.

“That’s what you want to hear.”

The Golden

898 S. Harrison St. • (260) 409-4764
Hours: Open for lunch Tues.-Fri., dinner Tues.-Sat. and late night Tues.-Sat. Sunday brunch.
Specialties: Creative farm-to-fork food with different menus for lunch, dinner and brunch.

The Golden’s Tiger’s Milk Cocktail

Serves one

2 ounces Nigori sake
1 ounce fresh cucumber juice
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
Three dashes jalapeño tincture
Sprig of fresh mint
Thin slice of fresh cucumber (sliced along the length of the cucumber)

1. In a cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients and fill with ice.

2. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds.

3. Strain over fresh ice into a Collins glass.

4. Garnish with thinly sliced cucumber and fresh mint.

Note: Make jalapeño tincture by soaking a clean, chopped jalapeño pepper in a cup of vodka overnight, then straining the liquid and storing it in a clean container. It will keep indefinitely, Butts said.

First appeared in the September 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.


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