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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, February 05, 2017 6:21 am

Helping readers find their favorite dishes

Ryan DuVall | Restaurant critic

Getting a handwritten letter is a rare treat these days.

Most of the time, those rare letters are not signed and have a lot of not-so-savory things to say about me after I have been too critical of someone’s favorite place to eat. But I do get good mail, too.

I get regular envelopes from Alex Demetroff of River Bend Pizza fame as he likes to needle me by critiquing my work or just to share an interesting food article he has read. And just recently, I got a neatly written one from a reader with questions, so I thought I better answer it and a few more I have gotten via email, Twitter and on the "JG Food" Facebook page.

That handwritten letter came from Ed of Fort Wayne:

"I’m sure many others have past favorites that are no longer available (as far as I know). Is it possible a current eating establishment has something similar? If so, I would certainly like to know.

1. Brooks (Bar-B-Que) ribs – Served fantastic ribs for many years. Located on Winter Street. Closed about 10-12 years ago.

2. Taco Inn – Located on Lake near Anthony in the 1970’s. Very good, and big, burritos."

Well, Ed, the first place was a good one before it went away and the charcoal-grilled style of barbecue that was done there is hard to find these days as smoking has taken over.

But there is a place in the exact spot where Brooks was at 1403 Winter St. Neighborhood Smokehouse BBQ makes ribs using a combination of charcoal and wood smoke, so they might appease your craving. The folks who run it also have a mobile barbecue unit – Big Lacy’s – during the warmer months along South Anthony Boulevard near East Tillman Road. That trailer serves charcoal-grilled ribs that will probably be as close as you can get to what Brooks’ specialized in.

As for the second question, that predates me and most of the Fort Wayne food veterans I asked about it, so I don’t have any solid leads. But maybe all of my faithful readers can chime in (on Twitter, via email, on the "JG Food" Facebook page or by written correspondence like Ed) and see if they can help. I will share my findings in a future column.

Just curious. What’s the most unusual pizza topping you’ve had? #anchovyhater

@capkirk, Fort Wayne (via Twitter)

Well, Tom, I am not an anchovy hater and I love them on my Caesar salads. I also like them on olive oil-based pizzas with fresh garlic, onions and Parmesan.

As for other odd toppings, I am kind of a pizza purist. Saw a TV show recently featuring a chicken and waffles-topped pie. Who wants that? I want my pizza to be pizza, not plate for chicken and waffles.

I also don’t get the macaroni and cheese pizzas, which my kids think are great. But I do sometimes get a hankering for frozen pizza with sliced up hot dogs which my dear late Grandma DuVall used to cook up on those rare nights she wasn’t making something from scratch.

The oddest-topped pie I really liked was the Wabash Cannonball at Una Bell Pizza in Wabash, which is not only one of the best pizza places in the area, it is one of the best in the state.

This sauceless pie featured the award-winning Wabash Cannonball Goat Cheese from cheesemaker Capriole Inc., of Greenville, instead of mozzarella. It also had caramelized sweet Vidalia onions, olive oil and fig puree.

I am fairly new to the Fort Wayne area and there are a few favorite foods I have been unable to find and I am hoping you can help me.

1. A good egg salad sandwich on toast.

2. A genuine Chicago hot dog.

3. West Coast style Mexican food.

– Holly, Fort Wayne

This one is easy!

1. Lincoln Tower Fountain, 116 E. Berry St.

2. Lunch Box Cafe, 8814 Coldwater Road.

3. Any of the Salsa Grille locations or, for more upscale offerings, Salud, 5735 Falls Drive.

Best place for just simple homestyle cooking, like how going to grandma’s used to be like if granny served booze too?

@fredcannon

The first place I thought of was one of my all-time favorite places – Liberty Diner.

Whether it be a huge omelet, a turkey dinner with all the fixings or a big plate of Mediterranean goodies, this place personifies comfort food. And wine and beer is available for those who want to partake.

You may find some comfort food on the menu or specials board at some of the Don Hall’s restaurants that serve alcohol, such as Tavern at Coventry, Triangle Park and the Guesthouse, but most of the Hall’s that serve it are more upscale continental. The Hall’s "neighborhood" locations – the drive-ins, the Prime Rib and the New Haven location – have more of that comfort food, but do not serve alcohol.

We are transplants from Minnesota who can’t seem to find chow mein as we were used to getting back home. Up there, chow mein is made with crumbled pork and a sauce I would consider a brown sauce. If you order chicken chow mein, it’s the same stuff with strips of chicken on top.

The chow mein we have had in Fort Wayne has a clear sauce, almost flavorless. Any hints?

– Gary and Sheree, Fort Wayne

The issue here is that American Chinese food has a unique history that makes it very regional and what we consider to be Chinese food here really isn’t all that Chinese. If the crumbled pork version was the norm in Minnesota, it will likely always be that way. It probably became the norm there because some of the first Chinese restaurants there did it that way so others followed because that is what the Minnesotans expected.

It also may be that the version you are talking about is derived from another dish from whatever area the owners of those restaurants are from. Many Chinese restaurant owners aren’t even Chinese, so it could have Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian or some other region’s influence.

A similar example here is the tomato-beef soup that has long been a favorite of regulars at Hainan House on Bluffton Road. I have never seen a soup like this at Chinese restaurants outside of the Summit City and never heard of it until I reviewed Hainan the first time and was scolded by those regulars for not trying it. When the original owners sold the place in 2010, the new owners had to keep making it because of the demand. And, of course, when the original owners returned a couple of years ago, it remained.

Your best bet is to try and ask what kind of sauce comes on the chow mein at a variety of places here and ask if any of them do a crumbled pork version. There is a chance that even though it is not on the menu, the folks there might know what you are seeking and be able to whip it up.

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. 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.