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DINING OUT: BEST OF 2018

December 30, 2018

It has been a year of changes again with great old places ending their runs and great new places added to the Summit City restaurant scene, but more than anything else for me, it has been a year of simplicity.

Looking at the highlights of the past 12 months, there are plenty of fancy, modern restaurants and complex dishes that left a memorable impression upon me. But there were just as many straightforward, no-frills selections that were just as : if not more : impressive.

So here are the best of the best for 2018:

Restaurants

Caliente, 120 W. Wayne St. : The Cuban sandwich shop I fell in love with expanded to downtown, and the family that runs it eventually closed the little place they started on State Boulevard. The same simple sandwiches and scratch-made sides remain, but the new place has raised its stakes so owners Gus Rodriguez and Yalili Mesa and their sons, Nestor and Bryan, now offer more upscale, formal Cuban meals that are just as great.

Proximo, 898 S. Harrison St. : The partnership between BakerStreet Steakhouse and the Hoppy Gnome produced an exciting restaurant in the Skyline Tower that offers upscale Latin dishes like no other in this area.

Hop River Brewing Company, 1515 N. Harrison St. : This brewery is nearly impossible not to love with the approachable fare made with upscale ingredients. The beers are great, too.

One10 West Main, Albion : A longtime watering hole was transformed into a local jewel with an interesting menu that makes it worth the drive.

Bravas, 3412 Fairfield Ave. : With hot dogs and even steaks on its menu with its still-fabulous burgers, there is something for everyone here, and it’s the kind of restaurant that is worthy of joining the legendary older places as a city landmark.

Appetizers

Burmese shrimp salad; Malaysia Hala, 5205 Decatur Road : Juicy, super-sweet jumbo shrimp were dressed in warm lemon vinaigrette with slightly wilted cabbage, red onions and slivers of green chiles. It was a masterpiece in flavor and texture.

Citrus-chipotle chicken wings; Tower Bar & Grill, 2403 W. State Blvd. : Fried, then grilled and coated in a sticky sauce with plenty of kick, a bright, acidic note and an underlying sweetness, they are my favorite wings at the place I think has the best wings in the city.

Rosemary gnocchi; One10 West Main :Perfect little potato dumplings were poached in a scrumptious cream sauce and then topped with stringy melted fontina, white cheddar, mozzarella, Romano and Asiago cheeses. It was like gnocchi meets macaroni and cheese, and it was great.

Shishitos fritos; Bravas : They are as simple as it gets. The Korean peppers are deep-fried, then drizzled with Spanish olive oil, salted and served. They are mild with a vibrant vegetal flavor, but there are a few in every basket that bring the heat. That unknown aspect makes them as much fun as they are delicious.

Shimp sope; Proximo : My favorite taqueria dish was taken to new heights here. A soft, sweet corn base that was oozing with melted white cheese and was topped with a bevy of sweet, plump shrimp, sautéed onions and green peppers, diced tomatoes, a little salsa verde and queso fresco.

Knot wings; Sweet Lou’s Pizza, 1235 E. State Blvd. : Cleverly named because they were not chicken wings, these dough knots were baked, then flash-fried to make the outside super-crispy before being tossed in Buffalo sauce.

Main courses

Wok-charred cauliflower; Nawa Asian Fusion, 1267 W. Columbia St. : Cauliflower florets were roasted and joined by just green bell peppers and onions in a thin soy-based sauce along with chicken, which was my choice of protein. Though minimal in ingredients, it was masterful in flavor as the cauliflower starred.

Red curry duck; Nori Asian Fusion, 2882 E. Dupont Road : Bone-in pieces of bird had a super-crispy exterior, and the fat under that skin was rendered perfectly and was wonderful when dragged through the fiery, milky red sauce.

Hot pot; Pho 59, 4036 Coldwater Road : This shareable dish featured a steaming cauldron of broth accompanied by several plates of goodies for you to cook in it. One platter had a bevy of veggies and herbs. Another had cold rice noodles, and there was one with raw slices of chicken breast and thin steak. If that wasn’t enough, I got a plate full of frozen mussels, clams, squid, imitation crab, and fish and shrimp balls.

Curried goat; Ivy’s Jerk Joint, 2836 S. Clinton St. : The tender bone-in chunks of this rarely found delicacy were cooked in a mild yellow curry along with potatoes and served over rice. They were about as good as it gets when it comes to goat meat.

Swiss steak; Waynewood Inn, 8421 Bluffton Road : This throwback dish seldom found at restaurants these days reminded me of my great grandmother’s. It is on special every Wednesday and Saturday, but sandwiches are offered other days as long as the leftovers last.

Desserts

Strawberry pie; T&R Junction, Garrett : This spot in the former Railroad Inn offers one of the best versions of this simple favorite I have had recently. You could really taste the freshness in the strawberries, which were cut up before being folded in the sweet jellied base instead of left whole, which most places do and which makes them hard to eat.

Guava bread pudding; Caliente : Mesa’s bread pudding has no rivals. She makes it to the perfect consistency and that somewhat tart fruit is the perfect addition to the custard-soaked, house-made bread, which she is also the mastermind behind.

Coconut cheesecake; Nawa : This locally made cheesecake was light and airy but packed with coconut flavor. Its graham cracker crust was quite thin, which was a nice touch because it simply did its job of holding the luscious coconut cheese base without getting in the way. It was topped with thin almond slices and drizzled with chocolate sauce.

Oreo truffles; Don Hall’s Triangle Park, 3010 Trier Road : Simple but sublime. Chocolate cream cheese is formed into balls, rolled in crushed cookies and served with chocolate and caramel sauce and whipped cream. There was a touch of salt in them that made them addictively yummy.

Peach cobbler; Charlow’s Grill, 3103 Oxford St. : Another straightforward offering, it is as good as cobbler can get with canned peaches coated in a thick, sugary sauce along with its somewhat doughy top crust that also soaks up all the sugary goodness.

Bonus beverages

Cucumber and jalapeño margarita; Arco’s Restaurante Mexicano, 2868 E. Dupont Road : I fell in love with this unique beverage that was crisp, cool and just a little spicy. It was about as refreshing as one of the tequila-based drinks could be.

Espresso martini; Proximo : This wasn’t a creamy, super-sweet dessert drink; it looked like black coffee and had a robust flavor that was just a little sweet. It was foamy on top from a vigorous shaking, which made it look like a cappuccino.

Goodbye

Blue Stack Smokehouse, 3620 N. Clinton St. : My favorite barbecue spot in the Fort ended its run in November. Owner David McLaughlin wanted to spend more time with family. I will miss his amazing brisket, as will all of its faithful followers.

Nella’s Coffee and Grill, 4606 Parnell Ave. : One of my family’s favorite spots. I am so glad the family that ran this place opened my eyes to the simple wonders of Bosnian cuisine, and I will be pining for the delicious meat pies Nella produced in that kitchen.

Kaysan’s, 7102 S. Anthony Blvd. : A staple on the south side of Fort Wayne that many grew up with, and which offered a tasty mix of Korean and Mexican fare, is no more.

Hello

Ivy’s Jerk Joint : A welcome addition with its tantalizing and spicy fare.

Sweet Lou’s Pizza : Lou Henry is serving up Chicago pizza and yummy Italian beef sandwiches in the space that was once home to the Rib Room.

Metro Diner, 5525 Coldwater Road : This chain of over-the-top, indulgent diner favorites opened in the space that was once Lone Star Steakhouse along Coldwater Road.

Ruth’s Chris, 224 W. Wayne St. : The popular chain steakhouse opened in Skyline Tower.

Proximo

The Pub at 1802, 1802 Spy Run Ave. : Local restaurateur Bill Bean set up shop in the same spot he made famous at Bill’s Bistro years ago and which was most recently Mid City Grill.

Goodbye and hello

Hamilton Public House/The Fish House Restaurant and Seafood Market, 4910 N. Clinton : Bean also opened the onetime Outback Steakhouse and Bar 145 spot as a sports-themed bar and restaurant, but closed it up just over a year later. He was not done, though, and has now reopened it as a seafood spot.

Red River/Bill’s Smokehouse, 305 E. Washington Center Road : Bean made another switch when he closed a once very popular restaurant in June and reopened it as a barbecue spot.

Calhoun Street Soups Salads and Spirits/Welch’s Ale House, 1915 S. Calhoun St., and D-Lightfuls Deli and Tea, 1932 S. Calhoun St. : Original CS3 owner Donna Kessler’s lease was not renewed by the building owner in August, but she is offering her fans some of their favorites at her deli across the street now. The old CS3 spot also recently reopened as the Ale House.

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette. net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.

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