FOCUS 2018: Downtown Fort Wayne’s restaurant scene growing and diversifying, adds high-end service
Nestor Rodriguez can’t wait for Fort Wayne to try a real Cuban mojito.
If his family’s Caliente Cuban restaurant gets a Downtown Dining District liquor license after a hearing June 25, the Rodriguezes will be bringing not only alcoholic drinks, some incorporating Cuban coffee, but also “alley cat” service – the bar will be built in the back of the family’s second restaurant, 120 W. Wayne St., with an entrance from the alley, like the speakeasies of yesteryears.
Their first restaurant opened in 2009 at 1123 E. State Blvd. Their second has been serving Cuban sandwiches and coffee, father Gus’ special sauce, and Caribbean bites less than a year. Since then downtown has seen the start of the revitalization of The Landing on Columbia Street and the riverfront project, a three-phase multi-year project to bring dining, retail and housing to the St. Marys River, along with the opening of two upscale restaurants, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Proximo, both on Wayne Street. Nawa, an Asian-fusion restaurant at 126 W. Columbia St. opened last fall on the historic Landing in a 125-year-old building. It already has one of the downtown liquor licenses and Meanwhile, those looking for more of a grab-and-go lunch can stop at Lindi’s, 256 W. Main St., for a lobster roll on Fridays, thanks to Lindi Miller’s return to downtown since the closure of Deli 620 in the PNC bank building, as well as the City View Cafe in the Indiana Michigan Power Center at 110 E. Wayne St. with its panoramic few of the city.
Fort Wayne’s downtown, once nearly deserted on the weekends with office buildings closed, is now a hub of activity with parking places hard to find on Wayne Street as diners fill open-air patios.
Ruth’s Chris opened May 7 on the ground floor of Skyline Tower and has a wraparound patio, but inside its weekend live jazz music entertain guests served by always-attentive staff in the main dining room as well as in six private dining areas. The home of the 500-degree plated butter-infused steak serves dinner seven nights a week and lunch on Fridays. The $6 million, 300-seat, 13,000-square-foot restaurant gives off a big-city feel while diners enjoy cocktails and steak.
It has been joined on the other end of the block by the newest downtown restaurant, Proximo. The Latin American cuisine restaurant began providing a fine-dining experience June 11 in the space at 898 Harrison St. in the Ash Skyline Plaza that was occupied by the Golden until its November closure. Proximo also includes a private dining area where the retail shop The Find used to be before it moved catty-corner.
The group that owns BakerStreet Steakhouse, the Hoppy Gnome, Gnometown Brewing Co., and now Proximo are serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. One of the goals was to provide a place where business meetings could take place over breakfast, James Khan, one of the BakerStreet principals, previously said.
The drive for fresh ingredients and the changing tastes of downtown diners have really added to the flavor of downtown dining.
A former News-Sentinel editor used to say, “Fort Wayne doesn’t know what it wants to grow up to be.”
It seems to have found out.