File The Back 40 Restaurant in Decatur in Adams County offers a buffet and salad bar, as well as antiques and curios to see.
File Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island on Main Street in downtown Fort Wayne is a tourist destination, not only for the dogs, but for the nostalgia.
Sunday, June 10, 2018 1:00 am
Fantastic food options
Area is filled with plenty of top-notch places to get a bite
RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette
Fort Wayne has long been considered a city of restaurants just as much as it has been considered a city of churches.
But Fort Wayne is not necessarily the undisputed king of great dining destinations in northeast Indiana. There are plenty of jewels in every county, many of which surpass their Summit City peers.
Here is a look at some of the must-visit places in area counties – from the high end to the cheap bites – for those who like to fill their stomachs while filling their need to explore.
• Fort Wayne's Famous Coney Island
Where: 131 W. Main St., Fort Wayne
Why: It is pretty much the No, 1 tourist destination when it comes to Fort Wayne and it is on my list as well. It is a retro gem that has a century of experience serving dogs. It is a place one must check out if you are new to the area. The dogs – and chili and burgers – are great, but this place is as much about the experience and the nostalgia as it is about its food.
• Don Hall's Gas House/The Deck/Takaoka
Where: 305 E. Superior St., Fort Wayne
Why: The Gas House part of this restaurant trifecta is another old-school gem. It is, indeed, an old gas house. The food has always been solid but renovations over the last decade have made it look more modern and made it more comfortable. On its second floor, Takaoka of Japan is a top-notch Japanese steakhouse that also had a much-needed renovation recently. Its menu was also lifted by the addition of Kurobuta pork and Wagyu beef to the menu. And out back along the bank of the St. Marys River, The Deck is the perfect place to lounge around and watch the evening roll by as you have some cocktails and the same great food that the Don Hall's chain is known for.
• Das Nolt Family Dinner Haus
Where: 12530 Cuba Road, Grabill
Why: A day spent in this Amish town is always a lot of fun and Nolt's is a great place to end the day for dinner.
After visiting Souder and Son's store, Grabill Country Sales and some of the other great Amish stores spread throughout the area, and maybe after getting some ice cream at the fabulous Dairy Sweet, head out to the Nolt family's farm for an Amish buffet featuring great fried chicken and yeast rolls. You can also stroll through the barn to say hello to the family's horses or treat yourself to a buggy ride. Be aware that it is cash-only.
• Back 40 Junction
Where: 1011 N. 13th St., Decatur
Why: This legendary buffet has been churning out prime rib to the masses for more than 40 years. It has everything one could want in a buffet and probably more. Friday night is the best night to go because crab legs join the party. The fact that the restaurant is train-themed with many antiques and odds and ends outside and inside will keep younger, as well as older, diners busy looking around.
• White Cottage
Where: 178 W. Main St., Berne
Why: Every small town has to have a little diner downtown and the Cottage fills the bill in the Swiss town of Berne. It is a great place for a simple lunch and it also has ice cream for dessert.
• Old 27 Ice Cream Shop
Where: 168 S. 2nd St., Decatur
Why: It is about as cute as a little old-fashioned ice cream shop could be and is only open from May to September. It offers 27 flavors and also has sandwiches and other typical drive-in fare. And you can even try a few holes of its little miniature golf course.
• Sandra D's Italian Garden
Where: 1330 Main St., Auburn
Why: This cozy little spot has lots of charm, the couple that run it are fabulously friendly hosts and the rustic Italian fare is phenomenal. Sandra makes a mean blood-orange martini, and her husband, Bentley, will wow you with his carbonara.
• Shorty's Steakhouse
Where: 127 N. Randolph St., Garrett
Why: This little jewel is serving the kind of food you would expect to find in a fine-dining establishment in a much bigger city. Its historic space is also about as charming as it gets.
• The Brown House
Where: 100 E. Ensley Ave., Auburn
Why: It is one of those drive-ins that has been around forever but still churns out great Coney dogs and old-fashioned ice cream treats as well as anyone.
• Joseph Decuis
Where: 191 N. Main St., Roanoke
Why: Nobody in the state represents the farm-to-table philosophy better. This extremely upscale destination has its own farm raising Wagyu beef and Mangalista pork, and there are so many locally grown items it is hard to find something that is not. It has long been regarded as not only one of the best fine-dining spots in the area, but also one of the best in the state.
• Nick's Kitchen
Where: 506 N. Jefferson St., Huntington
Why: No trip through the Hoosier State would be complete without visiting this place where pork tenderloin sandwiches were born. Owner Jean Anne Bailey's loins are some of the best I have had and having a slice of her pie for dessert is a must, especially the sugar cream, which has been ranked as one of the best in the state.
Where: 401 N. Jefferson St., Huntington
Why: With more than 500 varieties of craft-made soda – including some of their own homemade flavors – and delicious gourmet ice creams, it is one of my all-time favorite spots in the area. It doubles as an antique store, too, so you might find something other than fizzy drinks to take home with you.
• Noa Noa Wood Grill and Sushi Bar
Where: 310 Eastlake Drive, Warsaw
Why: The best seafood spot in northeast Indiana, its use of mesquite wood to grill fish is brilliant. Its tiki bar churns out great fruity beach drinks and adds to the fun atmosphere. Though fish and seafood is the specialty, there is something for everyone as the giant steaks cooked on that fire will please any meat lover.
Where: 1101 E. Canal St., Winona Lake
Why: Nestled in the tiny craft village of Winona Lake – which is a great day-trip destination in its own right – this eclectic eatery featuring small plates and sushi is one of the best restaurants in northeast Indiana. Its atmosphere is laid back and fits its spot along the canal, so it is as perfect for a simple lunch as it is for a special occasion dinner.
• Pier and Back Porch
Where: 702 E. Lake View Road, Syracuse
Why: The Oakwood resort is a great place to stay while visiting this lake town, and the Pier in it has one of the best lakeside dining venues. The menu is modern and diverse with a mix of upscale dishes and simple snacks to nosh on while watching the boats go by from the outdoor patio.
• Blue Gate Restaurant & Bakery
Where: 195 N. Van Buren St., Shipshewana
Why: When visiting the Amish community of Shipshewana, the Blue Gate is the best place to go to have Amish cooking. Fried chicken, meatloaf, pot roast, chicken and noodles; you name it and they do it right there. There is also a buffet option with all the yeast rolls you can eat and, yes, all the Amish pie you can eat, too.
• Rieglings Coppertop
Where: 725 W. 700 S, Wolcottville
Why: This little roadhouse seemingly in the middle of nowhere is worth seeking out for its tasty brewpub-style food. It also has a great outdoor lawn area with stage that is a great place to sample some of the beers and enjoy a meal while listening to the local talent.
• Woods Too
Where: 65000 S. 1170 E., Hudson
Why: A little taste of New England at a hidden Indiana lake is what makes this place special. Live Maine lobsters are flown in regularly as the family that started this restaurant hails from there. They will crack and serve those lobsters tableside, and the market price is so reasonable you can easily add a steak for a surf and turf without breaking your budget. Add in the Thursday night special all-you-can-eat frog legs and boiled shrimp and you have a place you must check out.
• Moose Lake Christian Craft Village
Where: 11330 E. 500 S., LaOtto
Why: This 1800s village has a day's worth of activities including a pond with paddle boats, a beach and fishing hole, a bevy of farm animals and replica buildings in the style of that era, including a neat little church. The old country store is the centerpiece and features a deli, Amish goods, including fresh pies and doughnuts, and that is where the restaurant can be found. Cafe Moose is the star attraction with great sandwiches, a one-of-a-kind cheeseburger – the Skirted Moose with its giant ring of melted cheese – and delicious fried biscuits you can sample gratis while you wait on your meal.
• St. James
Where: 204 E. Albion St., Avila
Why: One of the oldest restaurants in the area, this classic place still does it right. The broasted chicken is known for miles around, the limited German menu is unique and there is pretty much something for everyone.
• Jr's Dairy Sweet
Where: 1066 U.S. 33, Wolf Lake
Why: A really cool retro spot only open when it is warm, this little drive-in has a cozy outdoor seating area surrounded by antique gas pumps. The tenderloins and burgers are tasty and so are all of the ice cream treats. It will take you back to your childhood for sure.
• Captain's Cabin
Where: 3070 W. Shady Side Road, Angola
Why: The big log cabin overlooking Crooked Lake is the kind of place you think of when you head to the lake with its rustic charm. And the food will charm your taste buds. Great steaks and seafood are the calling card of the menu that still has some of those old favorites your grandparents would order when they took you to a fancy restaurant.
• Clay's Family Restaurant
Where: 7815 Old U.S. 27, Fremont
Why: It's a simple little place with no-nonsense food that might not wow you, but also won't disappoint. But what will wow you are the pies, and there are many of them daily. Whether they are cream or fruit, all are worth stopping in to try.
• Tom's Donuts
Where: 300 Lane 101, Jimmerson Lake, Angola
Why: Nestled right where Lake Jimmerson meets Lake James, the doughnuts here are the best in the area – period. The original Tom's – there are other franchised spots in Angola, Auburn and Fort Wayne that, honestly, don't do it as well – opened in 1969 and is still a local favorite. There will probably be a line, but the wait is worth it because they are so fresh and so impeccably made.
• Una Bella Pizza Napoletana
Where: 1710 S. Wabash St., Wabash
Why: One of the best pizzerias in the state doing wood-fired pizza in the traditional Neapolitan style. Owner Larry Salyers studied under a Neapolitan master and goes to extremes, even making his own mozzarella cheese. His offers are as unique as they are delicious from the staple Margarita to a unique fig puree and caramelized onion. It is also across the street from another fun spot to check out, the B-K Root Beer stand, the perfect spot for dessert.
• Mr. Dave's
Where: 102 E. Main St., North Manchester
Why: This legendary spot has also made the claim that it is where the pork tenderloin was invented. The loins there are tasty, too, but are more of a drive-in or fast-food style and not gargantuan ones that most Hoosiers have become accustomed to. Regardless, this little jewel is a place you have to check out if nearby.
• The Fried Egg
Where: 1319 Cass St., Wabash
Why: This relative newcomer is a fantastic breakfast spot and features one of the best brunch buffets in the area on Sundays. Nestled right along U.S. 24, it is part of the Gabriel's Pancake House group, which has stores in Peru and Marion.
• Tyeger's Pizza
Where: 931 N. Main St., Bluffton
Why: It is one of the most inventive pizzerias in northeast Indiana with pies that take a back seat to no one when it comes to quality. This Irish-themed spot is worth the drive to Bluffton alone.
• TW Fable
Where: 2330 E. 250 N., Bluffton
Why: This upscale eatery earned its fine reputation before moving to Timber Ridge Golf Club but still produces the same quality food there.
• Heyerly's Bakery
Where: 107 N. Jefferson St., Ossian
Why: This little bakery will take you back in time. It hasn't changed much since it opened in 1931 and that is a good thing. Its doughnuts, cookies, pies and other pastries are fabulous and you will just love staring in through the glass cases at all of those goodies like you used to when you weren't even as tall as those cases.
• Magic Wand
Where: 602 S. Main St., Churubusco
Why: Enjoy the ice cream, but be aware of all of the clowns decorating this gem of a restaurant. The food is old-school good from great old-fashioned burgers to broiled cod to fresh-from-the-oven cobblers, and nobody does elaborate ice cream sundaes better.
• Senor Fajitas
Where: 209 S. Main St., Columbia City
Why: It seems unassuming on the square downtown, but this little Mexican eatery has a lot to offer. The family recipes are rustic and hearty and though not flashy or necessarily modern, the food will satisfy any appetite. And they make some mean margaritas there, too.
• Crossroad Inn
Where: 5795 Indiana 9, Columbia City
Why: This aptly named, old roadhouse-style eatery at Indiana 9 and 14 has featured good old-fashioned, home-cooking for more than 40 years. It is a local gathering spot as it has a bar, too.
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.