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  • Bronzed scallips at The Pier & Back Porch at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse.

  • Lobster crostinis at The Pier & Back Porch at Oakwood Resort in Syracyse.

  • Mediterranean flatbread at The Pier & Back Porch at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse.

  • Alligator bites at The Pier & Back Porch at Oakwood Resort in Syracyse.

  • Grilled pineapple and grapefruit salad at The Pier & Back Porch at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse.

  • Kathy's Apple Pie at The Pier & Back Porch at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse.

  • Bread pudding at The Pier & Back Porch at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse.

  • The Back Porch patio at The Pier & Back Porch at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse.

  • The Beef and Reef combo from The Pier & Back Porch in Syracuse.

  • Blackened mahi tacos at The Pier & Back Porch at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse.

  • The Pier & Back Porch at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse.

  • Berries and Cream at The Pier & Back Porch at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse.

  • Nutella and banana crepes at The Pier & Back Porch at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse.

  • A tasty rum punch went perfect with the food and setting at The Pier & Back Porch at Oakwood Resort in Syracyse.  

  • Old photos showing the history of the resort line the walls on the way to The Pier & Back Porch at Oakwood Resort in Syracyse.

  • Cinnamon char tuna at The Pier & Back Porch at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse.

  • The Seafood Explosion roll at The Pier & Back Porch at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse.

  • Crab and shrimp Ceasar salad at The Pier & Back Porch at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse.

  • Crab and brie soup at The Pier & Back Porch at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse.

  • Scallop ceviche from The Pier & Back Porch in Syracuse.

  • The main dining room, the Pier, at The Pier & Back Porch at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse.

Sunday, August 13, 2017 1:00 am

Lake Wawasee resort's spot has few peers

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

The Pier & Back Porch

****

Out of a possible five

$$$$

Sitting there looking over the blue water rippling in the sun with a pink rum drink in my hand and a martini glass filled with a fresh ceviche in front of me, I was in heaven.

Was it a beach in Waikiki? No, it was Wawasee.

The Pier & Back Porch at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse was about as close as one could get to a tropical getaway in Indiana. Its view of Lake Wawasee combined with dishes just as tropical made it a fantastic day trip excursion.

The Back Porch refers to the covered patio off the main dining room that is just steps away from the resort's beach and a dock where customers can hitch their boats while they dine.

The Scallop Ceviche came from the restaurant's raw bar menu. It was beautiful, for starters, with the salsa sitting atop the shellfish and with two crunchy edible spoons made from fried wonton wraps jutting from it. There was just enough jalapeño mixed in along with a burst of lime juice that perfectly marinated the scallops to give them the perfect texture. It was brilliant.

I also loved the grilled pineapple, jicama, red onion and grapefruit salad. It exploded with freshness, and I would struggle to think of a more summery dish. There was just enough char on the pineapple, the jicama strands were super crunchy, and the cilantro, shallots and touch of cumin helped meld the sweetness with the sour from the grapefruit.

I needed more sweetness from the Lobster and Pancetta Crostinis, however. The bits of lobster were perfectly cooked and sweet but were overpowered by the large slice of pancetta underneath them. The pancetta crisped up like bacon during cooking and was very salty. I exhausted all of the juice in my lemon wedge garnishes and there was still no way to combat the salt. I would say more lobster would have helped, but more lobster always helps. Less pancetta would have been nice, though.

The only sushi roll I tried was a daily feature – the Seafood Dynamite with lobster, shrimp, crab and tuna. It was clumsily assembled and fell apart easily and was tepid, which was odd since it did not have any freshly cooked items in it. I will skip the sushi next time.

I won't skip out on the Alligator Bites from the regular menu's small plate section. It was not a plate at all, but rather a heaping cone full of the tender little fried bites that, yes, taste a lot like chicken. With a little honey-dijon dressing smeared on them, I gobbled them down happily.

Even more interesting sounding to me than the alligator was the Cinnamon Char Tuna. It was really not any different than most seared tuna appetizers except for that unique spice, and it wasn't really better either. The cinnamon worked as it was savory and seasoned it well. The tuna was fresh and fatty, too, but I am not sure there was enough payoff for using the cinnamon.

What may have been the best starter was also the simplest. The Crab and Brie Soup was just that – a lot of sweet, tender crab in a simple cream broth that had a ton of brie flavor.

The rest of my dishes were OK but had flaws or failed to excite me like the small bites did.

The Shrimp and Jumbo Lump Crab Caesar Salad had enough crab and shrimp, and those shrimp were big and cooked to perfection. But its dressing was on the side instead of being properly tossed. It also had powdery Parmesan cheese instead of freshly grated, which is what the delectable seafood deserved.

The Bronzed Sea Scallops were nicely seared and had a decent spice rub, and the jalapeño-avocado puree on the plate was fabulous. It would have been nice on a sushi roll and I think it was used in the tasty mango salsa on the ceviche. But there were only five quarter-sized scallops, which was not enough given its $32 price. The green tomato chow-chow was also too strong and overpowered the shellfish.

The Blackened Mahi Tacos had hearty, nicely seasoned fish that was perfectly accented by mango salsa, cilantro-lime crème fraîshe and crunchy lettuce and red cabbage. But the corn tortillas they were wrapped with were dry and leathery as if they had been microwaved.

The Beef and Reef featured a gorgeous blackened, 16-ounce, bone-in rib-eye, along with three blackened shrimp. The spice blend used on both was not too aggressive in terms of spice but was strong in flavor so it all kind of tasted the same. The Danish blue cheese glaze on the steak was delicious, however.

The Mediterranean Flatbread – topped with a roasted red pepper spread, Kalamata olives, portobello mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and feta – looked as if I was going to have to send it back as it appeared burnt around the edges. The bottom of the crust was perfect, however, and that touch of char really added to the overall flavor. It was a scrumptious vegetarian option.

The desserts were all worthy with one unique offering standing above. And, like that impressive ceviche, it, too, came in a martini glass.

The Berries and Cream had blueberries, raspberries and strawberries floating in a creamy, frothy, white concoction that was sort of like a mix of yogurt and whipping cream. It maintained its frothy texture and was perfect with the plump, ripe berries, My server didn't even know what exactly the cream was because it is a guarded kitchen secret.

There was no secret to the White Chocolate and Pecan Bread Pudding, which was rich and custardy with crispy browned edges, the Nutella and Banana Crepe or Kathy's Apple Pie. All were spot on.

I did not blame my server for not knowing what the cream was, but it was a theme. Guessing they were summer help, all of the folks who waited on me lacked some basic knowledge of the menu. They were, however, attentive and personable.

As far as the setting inside, it pales to that patio, of course, but was still nice. It has a sort of vacant, boathouse feel and kind of emulates the hull of a boat with its arched ceiling and attractive nautical decorations. I also loved the hallway leading from the resort lobby to the restaurant that was lined with old photos representing the long history of the site which was once home to the historic Oakwood Inn and later a religious retreat.

Restaurant: The Pier & Back Porch

Address: 702 E. Lake View Road

Phone: 574-457-8700

Hours: 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Smoking status: Non-smoking

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Ceviche ($14), pineapple salad ($5), Seafood Dynamite roll ($12), crostinis ($12), tuna ($16), alligator bites ($14), crab and brie soup ($7), Caesar salad ($14), Beef and Reef ($40), flatbread ($12), berries and cream ($8), pie ($7), bread pudding ($6), crepe ($5)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: * (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 rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette. net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.