Wednesday, May 17, 2017 8:05 pm
Baked goods worth every bite at brewery
RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette
Out of a possible five
There was a mystery surrounding Junk Ditch Brewing Company.
Is it pronounced Junk Ditch or “Yunk” Ditch? The ditch behind the restaurant is named after the Junk family, and, according to Jack May, one of the three co-owners of the brewery along with Andrew Smith and Dan Campbell, the pronunciation depends on who you ask.
“We didn’t know much about it until some members of the family came in and gave us a history lesson,” May said, adding they claimed “Yunk” was the proper way to say it.
Other family members came in and pronounced it using the J, however.
Smith loves the irony of the pronunciation debate given the three started their business with the Affine food truck, which people also struggled with. It is “ah-feen-ay,” by the way, not “a-fine.”
“We don’t care how you pronounce it, we just want you to come in and enjoy yourself,” May said.
I did come in, and I did enjoy myself quite a bit.
If there is one person who is the shining star at this restaurant, it wouldn’t be one of the owners, although they deserve credit for letting baker extraordinaire Grace Kelly Donaghy practice her craft there.
Donaghy’s GK Baked Goods operates out of Junk Ditch and her masterful touches are all over the menu, from the sandwich buns to the out-of-this-world cinnamon rolls on the brunch menu.
Those rolls were so ooey and gooey that they had nary a flaw. Slathered with a sweet white vanilla frosting and served piping hot, they had no rivals on the brunch menu.
Junk Ditch offers a flight of baked goods at brunch, but when I visited, the chocolate chip muffins and cheesy bacon and jalapeño scones were sold out, so I had to settle for cinnamon rolls only. Luckily, a couple next to me who raved about the scones gave me a taste.
The scone was a little crusty and buttery on the outside but surprisingly light and airy inside, which was kind of unscone-like. The jalapeño and bacon flavor was there but was subtle, which was a good thing.
There was a big issue, however. About 20 minutes later, a new group of people sat down next to me. They were not bad neighbors at all, but I wasn’t too happy to see them served a muffin.
“That was the last one,” a different server told me when I asked.
My new neighbors said I wasn’t missing much and that I should be glad I got a second cinnamon roll.
A simple side made any disappointment over the missed muffin disappear. And, yes, Donaghy played a part.
Biscuits and gravy were sort of an afterthought listed at the bottom of the menu. But they were some of the best biscuits I have ever had in Fort Wayne and were enrobed in a simply perfect peppery, rosemary sausage-spiked gravy.
The biscuit, like that scone, was firm and slightly crisp on the outside but was moist, dense and almost doughy in the center. The dish was so good I might just order those and a cinnamon roll next time and call it a day.
The Croque Madame sandwich was perfectly executed with tender, stringy, slow-cooked carnitas pork on a hoagie-style GK bun along with a runny fried egg, punchy pickled red onions, peppery arugula and a thick bechamel sauce. If there is a better breakfast sandwich in town I have yet to find it.
The Eggs in Purgatory was the most impressive-looking item and its flavor was spot on. But it was hurt by failed execution. Carnitas and slow-poached eggs were served atop a root-vegetable hash and topped with a zesty, salsa-like tomato sauce and pecorino.
The white and sweet potatoes in the hash were badly undercooked, so much so that I thought the sweet potatoes were carrots at first. And even though the white potatoes failed, I kind of liked the crunchy undercooked sweet potatoes. My eggs were also cooked under as the whites ran all over the hash almost as much as the yolks. Even the toast points were off as they were tooth-shattering hard.
The chicken and waffles were OK. The waffles were a tad chewy, the chicken pieces were forgettable and the orange chimichurri that garnished it along with syrup just didn’t do enough to make it shine.
The seared chicken breast I had at dinner was also a bit forgettable, though it delivered everything it promised. Served atop frisée and roasted fingerling potatoes, the chicken skin was nicely rendered and crisp, the frisée was dotted with grapes, raisins and rye croutons and the chicken schmaltz (rendered fat) gave it a welcome unctuousness. But it just couldn’t hold a candle to the rest of the dinner menu.
For starters, the Beef Cheek Tortellini could not have been better. The slow-cooked beef and all of its rich tasty drippings were encapsulated inside perfectly cooked fresh pasta that was shaped more like a mini pot pie than a tortellini. On top was a savory parsley-spiked onion sauce.
The Table Bread and Pairings appetizer did have some of Donaghy’s wonderful crusty bread and some nicely cured venison, but it fell a little flat. I wanted more meat and cheese – it had once piece of manchego and gouda – and less of the accents, which included a date mostarda and pickled vegetables and mustard seeds.
As good as the tortellini were, it came as no surprise that the Cacio e Pepe pasta was also wonderful. Fresh tagliatelle was tossed with a ragu of venison, oyster mushrooms and charred onions, and finished with pecorino romano.
The flavor profile was very similar to the tortellinis, and the venison was almost mild to a fault as I kind of missed the gamey flavor one expects from venison. Nonetheless, it was delicious.
And, yes, Junk Ditch – like everyone else – has an upscale burger. A great burger. The nicely seasoned patty was juicy and surprisingly tender. Served on a perfect shiny GK bun, the soft boursin cheese added creaminess to play nicely off of the crispy onion straws. The beet ketchup that came with the potato frites also was a nice change up, as it was light and sort of refreshing.
Of course the desserts were all brilliant – another nod to Donaghy.
The Apple Cake was my favorite with the Danish Lavash (cracker bread) mixed in with the scrumptiously moist cake being the shining star. It was sweet and super crunchy and added a brittle-like element that went perfect with the butterscotch-poached apples and buttermilk sherbert.
The Dark Chocolate Tart was pretty straightforward, but its 64 percent dark chocolate custard base made it basically a chocolate bomb. By adding a little of the oozing salted caramel, a pecan and some of the chantilly cream, each bite was brilliant.
Junk Ditch Brewing Company was pretty brilliant overall, too. In addition to the food, which is well above your typical brewery, it has a fantastic setting in an old building off Main Street. The front dining room house was a paper warehouse that is 65 years old. The back kitchen area has been around for over a century and was once, fittingly, a slaughterhouse. The inherent rustic touches give it the perfect atmosphere.
Restaurant: Junk Ditch Brewing Company
Address: 1825 W. Main St.
Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight Monday; 11 a.m. to midnight Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Beer and wine
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Tortellini ($8), bread pairings ($13), Cacio e Pepe ($16), burger ($14), chicken ($23), cinnamon rolls ($4), Eggs in Purgatory ($11), Croque Madame ($10), biscuits and gravy ($4).
Rating breakdown: Food: **1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. 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.