FIRST IMPRESSIONS EXTRA: Fort Wayne Food Tours

The head of the Fort Wayne Food Tour, Randy Harter, excels in his knowledge of Fort Wayne, including that of namesake General Anthony Wayne, or as he calls him "Tony." (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Don Hall's Gas House filet steak and mashed potatoes. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Behind the bar at Park Place on Main. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Park Place on Main's house salad. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
A crab cake with a dot of dijon mustard at Park Place on Main. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
The grassfed ribeye with mashed potatoes, asparagus and mushrooms at Park Place on Main. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Walking through Freimann Square helped kick off the Fort Wayne Food Tour. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
A portion of The Porkshank Redemption and the caramel apple salad at The Hoppy Gnome. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
The 1st Time Amber Ale from GnomeTown Brewing at the Hoppy Gnome. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Shepherd's pie and a scotch egg at J K O'Donnell's. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
All of the chocolates on display to try at DeBrand's downtown location. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)

We ate. We walked. We enjoyed.

That is, after all, the goal of the Fort Wayne Food Tours.

Randy Harter, a Fort Wayne historian if there ever was one, found a unique niche when he started the Fort Wayne Food Tours a year ago and it has turned out to be a successful one. Have three and a half hours? You have to do this. No really, we are making it a requirement. We have that power.

The restaurant partners have and likely will change as time goes by, our trip saw us making stops at Don Hall’s Gas House, Park Place on Main, The Hoppy Gnome, JK O’Donnell’s and DeBrand Fine Chocolates. The tour draws all ages and walks of life and people with varied experience and knowledge of the city for that matter. Our group of 10 was a perfect size to be able to mingle along the way.

By the time the food hit the table at Don Hall’s Gas House, our stomachs were rumbling after a day holding out in anticipation of what we would experience on the Fort Wayne Food Tour.

Hall’s provided us with a fillet steak with garlic butter mashed potatoes and mushrooms. A steak isn’t the most unique piece as it is one of the signatures at the Gas House. But it did lend its hand to forcing something different on us because steak, as we all know, is something most people are picky about. This particular piece of cow was not cooked to order as we ate it simply as it came out: a medium rare with far more pink on the inside than we would traditionally order.

And that, immediately, was one of the best things about the Fort Wayne Food Tour and our guide Randy Harter. It takes you outside of your comfort zone because you don’t get to choose what food comes your way, just if you eat it or not. The Gas House’s steak was tender, easy to slice through and delicious to feast on.

The Gas House was a great first stop because it holds plenty of history. Harter was quick to go over that history with us, dropping some knowledge on us without droning on. Even better, Gas House operator Ben Hall stopped by our table to share some personal history of the Hall family and the Gas House.

We were supplied a small glass of wine at the Gas House. It looked good and we didn’t spit it out when we drank it. That’s really the best we can do when it comes to reviewing wines.

We were able to take in a lot of knowledge between the Gas House and our second stop and we don’t want to spoil all of the information for those future tourists, but we learned quite a bit about the canal that once ran through downtown and way more knowledge (some even gross) that the two of us, as Fort Wayne natives, had about city namesake Anthony Wayne. Or as Harter calls him, Tony.

Park Place on Main, our second stop, has a fantastic ambiance around the bar. This is a place where you could imagine sitting and sharing drinks with friends on a more upscale night out on the town.

The house salad was bright and colorful but ended up tasting a little bit too much like we were eating grass. Park Place bounced back with a quality crab cake, however. If you know us, you know one of us likes seafood and the other doesn’t much. But we can tell you that this crab cake had all of the taste without the turnoff of a rough seafood aroma.

A visit from the restaurant’s executive chef told us about the grass-fed ribeye that we sampled, also with mashed potatoes and mushrooms.

The main course portions at Park Place were smaller than the Gas House, but you get as much food when you figure in that you have three different plates at Park Place.

We each had a beer at Park Place. Tasty yes, but also pricey.

Next on the eating agenda was the Hoppy Gnome. Browsing this menu was a surprise because we’ve heard the Hoppy Gnome to be pricey, which it certainly isn’t to the extent we were led to believe.

Again, we were met with a meal we likely would not have ordered otherwise. The Porkshank Redemption, as they call it, is glazed with a chili sauce and topped with pineapple salsa. The full dish, when ordered, comes with three shanks. It had a real kick to it, but one that was welcome and blended well with the sweetness of the pineapple. The Hoppy Gnome also served us their caramel apple salad.

Since adding an alcoholic beverage is an option — on your own additional dime — we tried out the 1st Time Amber Ale from their in-house GnomeTown Brewing Company. The ale was very smooth and pretty sweet for an in-house blend.

The walk from The Hoppy Gnome is one of the longer ones and Harter filled us in with good information about native American history in the city and the courthouse where we’ve personally never noticed featured the carved faces of the namesakes of both the city and county on the south side. Harter’s cheesy jokes are even a high point that keeps the tour from being too stuffy while still informative.

We headed over to JK O’Donnell’s next, the place we were most familiar with on the tour. What we were not familiar with, however, was the Shepherd’s pie we were served.

Now look, we are adventurous eaters and have become more so since we began our First Impressions and Pub Crawl features. However, we are likely to stick to meats that come from cow, pig, choice birds and choice fish. Lamb, however? That is not usually on our menu. But we have been missing out. Add Shepherd’s pie to your menu and do it now. The mixing of the lamb with carrots, green peas, onions and gravy with mashed potatoes is a hit and something we will revisit the next time we stop in at JKs. They also helped us out with one of those scotch eggs we first tried during our Pub Crawl visit to the location in the spring.

RELATED PUB CRAWL: JK O’Donnell’s Irish Ale House

With the dozens of beer and liquor options at JKs, there is no shortage of drinks to try with your taste of food. And that may be a true gem of the Fort Wayne Food Tour. While you do get treated to some good food at the various stops, the drink selection complements the eats tremendously well.

We wrapped up our trip around downtown by visiting DeBrand Fine Chocolates amidst the beginning rainfall. There is nothing better to conclude several hours of eating than some exquisite chocolate that looks almost too nice to eat…almost. As far as the rain goes, the tours run rain or shine but with Harter’s wit and wisdom and the delectable treats awaiting at each stop, I can’t say the threat of rain was ever on our minds.

As good as the food was, Harter was just as impressive. His knowledge of the history of Fort Wayne continually amazed us and the other foodies on the trip. A tip we would have never thought of: ask plenty of questions. Harter has the answer to nearly ever question asked by members of our tour and we learned things we probably would not have typically learned.

The food itself is spaced out nicely on the 1.25 mile walk. At no point do you ever get too hungry or too stuffed.

The tours run Fridays and Saturdays, so if you’re looking for a good mix of history, food and drink, Fort Wayne Food Tours delivers. Get more information at www.fortwaynefoodtours.com.

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