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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, October 25, 2017 1:00 am

Food diversity boosts city's hipster status

Kimberly Dupps Truesdell | For The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne is not the city it once was.

In the 13 years since I have moved here, downtown has transformed from a sleepy business district to a center of sports, entertainment, retail and dining.

Where there was just a handful of restaurants and only a few open late night, there is now a thriving culinary scene with diverse fare that strays far from the Indiana staples – pork tenderloin and sugar cream pie.

It's a transformation that we have all witnessed, most of us excitedly, as city officials devote more money to riverfront development. But it's one, too, that has the country taking notice.

Recently, a list published by Yelp and Realtor.com, ranked the top 10 hipster markets in the country and Fort Wayne was fourth. Besting the Summit City were the likes of Columbus, Ohio, Seattle and San Diego. And last week, Food & Wine magazine published a story on its website, calling Fort Wayne “an unexpected hipster spot.”

“These days, however, it seems that Fort Wayne is becoming flat out cool. Still in the phase where a visitor to the city will have to know just where to look for the signs – a downtown restaurant here, a block of beautifully refurbished homes over there, an annual festival that you hadn't heard of, not yet – it's clear that there's something afoot here,” the story says.

Jack May, who co-owns Junk Ditch Brewing Co., was not surprised to hear that Fort Wayne is cool. It's something he's known for sometime. But he says it was an honor – and validation – to see the city get credit in a publication like Food & Wine.

When May graduated culinary school in 2010, Fort Wayne was starting to trend in a cooler direction. The food truck movement, of which May was at the forefront with Affine, helped push the city further.

“We tried to stoke that fire,” May says. “I'm happy to see that” it's grown the way it has. Junk Ditch was among several restaurants listed for helping to elevate the local dining scene, as was Tolon, Conjure Coffee and Hetty Arts Pastry. Long-time staples Cindy's Diner and Powers Hamburgers were also mentioned.

“When we first set out to open a restaurant (in 2009), the scene was a lot of country club food. It was very traditional; not very adventurous” says Nicky Nolot, who co-owns Tolon with husband and chef Matthew Nolot. “We definitely wanted to hit the comfort level of guests and bring some adventuresome parts to it. “... With the addition of Junk Ditch and The Golden, the three of us have definitely brought Fort Wayne to show the larger markets that we have something to offer.”

For May and Nolot, Fort Wayne has an advantageous location, with access to prime produce and heritage livestock. Some places, like California, might be able to grow produce year-round, but Indiana has a diverse selection with seasonal growing periods that yield root vegetables, summer vegetables and fruit. It allows these new chef-driven restaurants to change the menu season to season, highlighting what's available.

“We've got such great opportunities to source locally,” Nicky Nolot says. “Because of that, it just opens up such a huge spectrum of what we can do.”

On recent menus, Matthew Nolot has highlighted heirloom tomatoes in a salad and summer corn in a pesto pasta. Junk Ditch has a Later Summer Pizza with butternut squash and venison sausage and an apple bread pudding with rosemary brown butter ice cream.

While this local, seasonal push is not new to larger cities, May says the Fort Wayne market is such that it allows younger chefs to enter the scene. In other places, he says, “we might get lost in the mix.”

“There's a lot of opportunity to shine,” May says.

Makenna Click owns arguably one of the coolest spots in Fort Wayne – Yummi Bunni. The ice cream shop known for its buns – sandwiches made with doughnuts – has become a staple of the downtown scene since opening in November. Click, who was inspired by offerings in bigger cities, is still in her 20s.

In the short time that many of the restaurants have been open, most less than two years, the chefs have created a sense of community – not just with the people sitting at the tables but among their fellow chefs, two of which were nominated for a James Beard award (Sean Richardson and Aaron Butts at The Golden) this year.

While it all seems new, the restaurants want diners to know that this is just the beginning.

“To be a hipster, ... it's a trend; it's a fad,” Nicky Nolot says. “For our restaurant, we're not a trend or a fad. ... we plan on being here a very long time.

“Our guests are excited because it's bringing national attention to our part of the country.”

Halloween fun

With a cemetery next door, hosting a lineup of Halloween events seemed like the thing to do at teds market.

From noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, the 12628 Coldwater Road market and wine bar will host a family-friendly costume lunch, outdoor beer fest and an adult's costume evening. There will be specials on food and beer, as well as Halloween-themed items, prizes for creative costumes and live music.

The beer fest, which will be under a large tent on the north side of the building, will feature local beers from Mad Anthony Brewing Co., Junk Ditch Brewing Co., Trubble Brewing, Chapman's and Birdboy Brewing, as well as samples from newcomers Hop River Brewing and Kekionga Cider Co. Area breweries Taxman, Bare Hands Brewing, Short's Brewing and Founders will also be in attendance.

OctoBEER Fest is from 3 to 7 p.m. and is for ages 21 and older. Tickets cost $25. A Cellar Club admission ticket, which is $35, allows access to samples of additional aged beers. OctoBEER Fest tickets can be purchased through the teds market website at www.teds-market.com.

Food will be available for purchase from Affine Food Truck and Bravas Hot Dog truck. 

Taco takeover

As the food truck season is winding down, fans can expect to see more special events and collaborations.

Bravas is bringing back WTF Sundaze, with its first event Nov. 5. At the 3412 Fairfield Ave. restaurant, the culinary team from Tacos Bravas will take over the kitchen.

The menu will be kept under wraps until the day of the event, allowing the team to be creative. The Golden will also be serving up cocktails.

It is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and geared toward the adult crowd.

Coming soon ...

A new restaurant is preparing to open next week.

The Jerk Joint will offer jerked meats and seafood at 1130 Goshen Road.

The opening is set for 11 a.m. Nov. 3, according to the Facebook event.

The Dish features restaurant news and food events and appears Wednesdays. Fax news items to 461-8893, email kdupps@jg.net or call 461-8304.