This past Friday I was privileged to be a part of the inaugural Fort Wayne Food Tour, which was founded by Fort Wayne native and historian, Randy Harter and his daughter/digital marketing guru, Sarah Arnold. The tour takes you through downtown Fort Wayne to eat tapas style portions at various local restaurants. Join me on my journey as I eat and tour the Fort!
My tour, which consisted of 12 guests and Randy as our fearless guide, started at Don Hall’s Gas House. While I am a huge foodie and love to eat out, I normally choose the Deck (the outdoor patio across the parking lot of the Gas House overlooking the river) or even Takaoka (the entertaining Japanese hibachi restaurant upstairs) so I was excited to try something new.
Our first course did not disappoint! Don Hall’s Gas House is famous for its steak and potatoes so that is exactly what they served. A perfectly cooked filet mignon broiled at 1800 degrees topped with a garlic-herb butter, flavorful melt-in-your-mouth mashed potatoes, and sautéed mushrooms seasoned to perfection. Also included was a sample tasting of a 2011 Footbolt Shiraz that paired very nicely with the steak. My favorite part was when Don Hall’s grandson Ben came out to regale us with tales of the restaurant. Apparently Don Hall was obsessed with a restaurant in Chicago called George Diamond Steakhouse. So much so that he copied it right down to the uniforms and chairs. In fact, the chairs are the original from when the restaurant opened 59 years ago! It is in the site of a historic gas plant, which is where its name comes from.
After sampling our first dish, it was great to stretch our legs and start the walking portion of our tour. As an added bonus it was a sunny 74 degrees, but Randy assured us that if it ever did rain he came equipped with ponchos. The tour covered a 1.25 mile loop and was a very easy walk – I did it in heels! (Although I am a professional shorty…the recommendation is to wear shoes that would be comfortable for a mile walk.)
Randy brought history to life as he regaled us with stories about the Wabash and Erie Canal (we literally stood in the middle of where the canal used to be), the former German-American bank, which was renamed Lincoln National Bank & Trust Co due to anti-German sentiment during WWI, and perhaps the most harrowing was a story of how Anthony Wayne’s bones came to their final resting place after the flesh was boiled off of them.
While I am not from Fort Wayne so a lot of the tour was new information for me, my friend Thao Le is a Fort Wayne native so I was curious to see what she thought of the tour. “Taking the tour enabled me to meet new people and experience Fort Wayne from a different view point. I love that we were able to take a stroll through the city and learn facts about Fort Wayne that I apparently missed in history class!”
Our next food stop was The Hoppy Gnome, which is one of my favorite downtown restaurant spots. Managing Partner, Pete Shuey, explained the history behind both Hoppy Gnome and their newest addition, Gnometown Brewing, while we sampled their most popular dish, Huarache flatbread. If you haven’t tried this before, you simply must. It’s a braised short rib with fire roasted salsa, black bean puree, queso fresco, and smoked jalapeño crema. This was complemented with crispy potatoes and cauliflower with a nine-pepper blend. We also had a side of chips with fire roasted salsa, salsa verde, and fresh guacamole.
The next stop on the tour was at The Dash-In where we sampled their famous Gourmet grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup (for dipping purposes). The sandwich is constructed with herb cream cheese, cheddar, Swiss, provolone, pepper jack, and a Roma tomato. I must note that at this time menu items are not able to be modified, which is part of the charm of the tour. (So to all my fellow lactose intolerant peeps bring your Lactaid!)
The next to the last stop on the tour was at The Golden, which is located in the recently constructed Ash Skyline Plaza in the heart of downtown Fort Wayne. Indy native Cassie Tran was excited to see the new development. “It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of history alongside modernization since downtown Fort Wayne is reinventing itself.”
This particular stop’s menu item is subject to change depending on availability since they are a farm to fork restaurant and can only offer that which is seasonably available. This lends to the freshness and quality of the food. We were served chicken liver on a delicious crusty bread, and they had a special Fort Wayne Food Tour coupon of $5 off a $25 gift card so that we could come back and sample more items. I highly recommend their cocktails, and a couple of Indy residents on the tour came back to have dinner and drinks there later that night!
Our final stop, which luckily was right next door since we were all fairly full at this point (and more likely to roll than walk), was of course dessert at DeBrand Fine Chocolates. We were treated to a sample of a variety of chocolates including truffles, classic, connoisseur, you name it, we ate it! We also received a coupon for $5 off a purchase of $10 so of course we bought more chocolates for later…you can never have enough chocolate!
I asked a couple of my fellow tour mates what their thoughts were on the experience.
“I would love to see it expand and have different themes so we could go again and experience something new. Maybe they could pair a small sample drink with each menu item. I hope more downtown restaurants sign up,” noted Colorado native, Tim McKenna-Buchanan. “I mean I’ve lived here three years and two of those places I have never been to and I’ll go back!”
Michigan native and recent Fort Wayne transplant, Gina Thomas, was excited to participate in the tour. “I’d do it again for when we have out of town guests. Great way to show off the city! The price was a steal!”
The Food Tours will be held (snow, rain, or shine) in downtown Fort Wayne, March through October on Fridays and Saturdays from at 3:00 pm for approximately 3.5 hours. The tour costs $55 a person and is 21 and over since some of the stops include bars. Grab your tickets here and come eat, walk, and enjoy as you explore historic downtown Fort Wayne!