My meal at Ciao Bella was something I’d expect from a high-end Chicago restaurant. Baby lamb chops, standing bone-end up forming a tepee atop a mound of rapini and beans, topped with delicate purple microgreens, was as pleasing to the eyes as it was to the taste buds. Read more
What to do when there are more restaurants to try than there are meal times? A progressive dinner is what we did one evening in Fort Wayne, with appetizers and cocktails at an Irish pub, salads and entrees at a local iconic steak house, and dessert at a chocolate shop.
We were greeted at our first stop, J K O’Donnell’s in downtown Fort Wayne, with Guinness and an Irish cocktail. I’m not much of a beer drinker, so one sip of the Guinness is all I had, but I drank every drop of the cocktail that combined Irish whiskey and Baileys.
J K O’Donnell’s prepares 98% of their food in-house, including the breadsticks, little fingers of golden crispness on the outside and tender on the inside. Fried pickles, becoming ubiquitous in pubs, were on the evening’s menu, as were Scotch eggs, something I’ve always wanted to try, hard boiled eggs coated in pork sausage, then breaded and deep-fried. A cholesterol feast but tasty.
Families are more than welcome at J K O’Donnell’s, but since Indiana law doesn’t allow children in a bar area, a separate room is available for families
Don Hall opened his first restaurant in 1946. Today the family owns a dozen restaurants in and near Fort Wayne, all unique, ranging from a drive-in to fine dining. The Old Gas House, in business since 1958, is exactly as the name implies—it’s in a 19th century gas plant. At this steak house we started with warm bread with a choice butters, one savory and one sweetened with honey, and salads. My favorite salad was the Spring Greens with strawberries, dried cherries, walnuts, and goat cheese, served with black currant vinaigrette.
Next came the entrees, including Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin served with Dijon-caper cream, sautéed mushroom, and caramelized shallots, and Dan-O’s Ribeye Steak, blackened and served with mashed potatoes, fried onions, and Andouille hash.
In the summer you can dine outdoors, if you wish, on the banks of the St. Mary’s River.
Dessert was a chocolate tasting splurge at DeBrand Fine Chocolates, Fort Wayne’s own gourmet chocolate company, where they make all their own creative centers and pair them with fine dark, milk and white chocolate.
The dark chocolate truffle was delicious, but my favorites were the dark chocolates in the Connoisseur Collection, like the Mayan Gold, intense dark chocolate ganache encased in dark chocolate with a bit of edible gold leaf on top. Talk about rich! Another of my favorites was Rosemary, dark chocolate filled with a citrus blend and rosemary. The Espresso was decadent, too, dark chocolate filled with intense dark chocolate-espresso ganache. Do you see a pattern here? Yes, I love dark chocolate, and being spoiled with rich gourmet chocolates like DeBrand, I am becoming quite a chocolate snob.
Our chocolate tasting was at one of the DeBrand stores, but you can also see how the chocolates are made on a tour of the kitchens at the Auburn Park Drive location.
The progressive dinner was sponsored by Visit Fort Wayne, but it’s an idea that I may borrow. What a great way to spend an evening—sampling foods from several great places, creating your own “taste of” a city.
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Editor’s note: Unfortunately, Barlett’s is no longer in business.
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