Dining Out: Best of 2017
When looking back on the past year in dining, there are a lot of new and exciting places and dishes to reflect upon.
But what has marked the year more than anything else for me are some of the losses we experienced. The restaurant business is a volatile one and places come and go all of the time, but those that left really hurt.
The most painful loss from a sentimental standpoint was the first locally owned eatery I ever dined at, Flanagan’s.
I was taken there for lunch by a former co-worker and loved the kitschy vibe it had. And I really loved the Reuben sandwich I had that day. Flanagan’s used to roast corned beef daily and their Reuben was one of the best around.
But what I will really miss is the garlic bread. Founder John Giokaris learned how to make the bread in the late 1950s from a German baker who worked at one of his family’s Columbus, Ohio, restaurants. Aside from downing many a basket of that bread, which Giokaris once told me was part of 25 dishes on Flanagan’s expansive menu, it also was used to make the city’s best grilled cheese sandwich.
Two places I gave five-star ratings to also left us.
The Golden was only around a year in the Ash Skyline Plaza. The creation of former Joseph Decuis chefs Aaron Butts and Sean Richardson, its approachable upscale cuisine was fabulous.
Salud Tapas and Tequilas, the upscale Mexican eatery from brothers Chris and Jerry Rongos, who also own the Salsa Grille franchise, was a real gem. House-infused tequilas made for killer margaritas and the place served Mexican food you will find nowhere else.
And for the second time, we lost the Rib Room. A city staple for generations, Matt, Kurt and Chris Henry brought it back to life in January 2016 and I thought they did a great job of bringing it up to modern standards. The brothers will try to make it work as a pizzeria now.
But enough of that depressing stuff, here are some of the great things about 2017:
Rua, Warsaw : The latest addition to Warsaw’s eclectic dining scene, this small-plate eatery’s menu will entice you and have you wondering why you haven’t seen dishes similar to what it serves anywhere else.
Ryu’s Kitchen, 2461 Hobson Road : A Korean woman who fell in love with the food culture here as a student opened this spot and makes some of the most inspiring dishes I have had in recent years.
Umi, 2912 Getz Road : One of the state’s hidden gems from Terre Haute expanded to the Summit City and immediately became the best place in town for sushi. But there is much more than raw fish to enjoy there. It is a complete dining experience.
Voodoo Public House, Peru : The trip to the circus town is worth it to have some of the unique, modern delights this restaurant has to offer.
Junk Ditch Brewing Company, 1825 W. Main St. : The folks from the Affine food truck are spinning seasonal ingredients into modern masterpieces and, with help from GK Baked Goods, have one of the best brunch options in the city.
Ahi Tacos, Voodoo Public House : Crispy, light green, vegan wonton wraps form the shells, which are filled with sushi-grade ahi tuna, crunchy jicama slaw and wasabi-lime aioli. It was easily the best thing I ate all year.
Bread, Sassafras on Main, Bluffton : The asiago-topped sourdough and Parmesan-topped basil focaccia were made by Chuck Kristek, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Sue. I probably could have made a meal out of just the bread.
Grilled Pineapple, Jicama, Red Onion and Grapefruit Salad, Pier & Back Porch, Syracuse : It exploded with freshness, and I would struggle to think of a more summery dish. There was just enough char on the pineapple, the jicama strands were super crunchy, and the cilantro, shallots and touch of cumin helped meld the sweetness with the sour from the grapefruit.
Pork Belly, Rua : One of the best interpretations of this trendy ingredient I have had. It was served with a few beech mushrooms and some pea shoots. The mirin and chilé glaze that coated the crispy seared pork, which was as fatty and succulent as it gets, was exquisite.
Tuna Carpaccio, Shoccu, 9930 Illinois Road : Slices of raw yellow fin were laid out in a pool of citrus yuzu sauce on a plate with a thin slice of radish and lemon atop them. The citrus zing combined with a touch of salty soy made this the kind of dish I could never grow tired of.
Mangalista Pork, Joseph Decuis, Roanoke : This Hungarian breed of pig is known for its fatty, well-marbled meat, and it was the ring of fat around the outside of my chops that were the highlight. To say it was like candy is not an understatement. It was crispy and nicely rendered; the sweet sauce covering it did not take away from its natural flavor.
Pork Ramen, Banh Mi Pho Shop, 1925 Fairfield Ave. : The second location for the sandwich shop on Coldwater Road, this one emphasizes its soups and the ramen, available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, is phenomenal. The curly noodles were in a cauldron of bubbling-hot, spicy red broth. It had two kinds of pork: a shredded, slow-roasted pork and thick slices of delectable pork belly that melted in my mouth.
Sushi/Salmon Nigiri, Umi : All of the sushi I had was fabulous, but the salmon, which is cured in house, was maybe the best pieces of sushi I have ever eaten. To say it was like butter on the palate was not a stretch.
Skirt Steak, Old Crown Coffee Roasters, 3417 N. Anthony Blvd. : Chef Jeremy Selvio turned a mistake into a masterpiece after thinking he had initially pulled a different cut of beef for this weekly special, which included a white corn polenta cake. The olive oil, rosemary and garlic-marinated steak was juicy and delicious and was topped with a very summery blend of charred cherry tomatoes, garlic, scallions, fresh parsley and a colorful medley of sweet bullhorn peppers. The vegetables and parsley were fresh from the restaurant’s garden, too.
Spicy Kimchi Pork, Ryu’s : Housemade kimchi was stir-fried with tender shoulder, onions and fresh cabbage and got a boost of spice from additional gochujang. Topped with a little fresh green onion and paired with rice, it was simple and satisfying.
Beet Cake, Rua : This sort of murky green, ginger-infused cake : beets change when cooked so it did not have the reddish-purple hue : sat on a brightly colored beet puree that had the proper color. The cake was super moist with just the right punch of ginger. But it was the crazy-good five-spice frosting that made it a winner.
Cobbler, Magic Wand, Churubusco : It had the sticky, gooey, sweet cherry filling with a touch of tartness that I expected, but what I didn’t expect was the buttery flavor of the crust. Its golden color let you know it had a lot of butter in it, but it was the touch of saltiness the browned butter gave this cobbler that put it in a whole new category of greatness.
GK Cinnamon Roll, Junk Ditch/GK Baked Goods : Made for Junk Ditch’s brunch by Grace Kelly’s GK Baked Goods, which is inside Junk Ditch’s complex, they were ooey and gooey and had nary a flaw. Slathered with a sweet white vanilla frosting and served piping hot, they had no rivals on the brunch menu.
Yummi Bunni, Yummi Bunni, 123 W. Main St. : There is no way stuffing a couple of scoops of premium ice cream into a doughnut or cinnamon roll could not be good. This place was easily 2017′s most buzzworthy food spot thanks to its excellent, and affordable, signature treat.
Pizookie Trio, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, 245 Coliseum Blvd. W. : This chain set up shop in front of Glenbrook Square and their warm, deep-dish cookie dessert sampler was fantastic. It included three warm, gooey cookies of your choice topped with ice cream. I am a sucker for fresh-baked cookies and having a variety makes them even better.
Famous Falafel, 5755 St. Joe Road : The unique, jalapeño-infused falafel is worthy of its famous label. Also the only place in the city offering one of my favorites : Turkish coffee.
Hamilton Public House, 4910 N. Clinton St. : Bill Bean took ownership of the former Bar 145 spot and turned it into a sort of upscale sports bar.
Park Place on Main, 200 E. Main St. : Bean also turned Main Street Bistro back into the old staple downtown eatery.
Pupuseria El Rinconcito, 1619 N. Wells St. : A second Salvadoran restaurant has opened in Fort Wayne and its offerings are worth checking out.
Yum Thai, 6420 E. State Blvd. : This little spot in Georgetown Square is serving up some unique dishes, such as a Thai spin on Vietnamese pho.
Pepe’s Pollo Loco, 5010 Decatur Road : The Mexican-style roasted chicken that this place specialized in, which was one of my bests from last year, will be dearly missed.
Pita Village, 511 E. DuPont Road : This fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant in the DuPont Village shopping center was a solid choice.
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. Email him at email@example.com; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.