It's the end of an era – again.
The partners in the Rib Room announced this week that the local landmark would close at the end of the year, 60 years after it opened. The silver lining in the announcement is there are plans to reopen a new concept in the space. A member of the family, Lou Henry, will operate a deep-dish pizzeria.
Local investors Matt, Kurt and Chris Henry bought the East State Boulevard building in 2014 from the Filippou family in an attempt to help save the restaurant, but financial woes gave the Filippous no other option than to close in 2015.
But the Henry brothers tried to revive the restaurant – remodeling the interior, hiring a new chef and revamping the menu while keeping the barbecue classics that many in Fort Wayne grew up eating.
Von Filippou and a business partner opened the restaurant in 1957 as Nick's Rib Bar. In 1992, Sam Filippou bought the restaurant with his brother-in-law Chris Raptis, and it was operated by the Filippou family until 2015.
Now, the space is moving in a new direction.
It's always been a dream for Lou Henry to have his own restaurant, but the father of five wanted to wait until the youngest was in school. When his uncles approached him with the opportunity, he couldn't say no.
“This is where I want to be. I live in the neighborhood,” he says. “If I could pick anywhere to put my concept, it would be here.”
Sweet Lou's Pizza will open in time for Henry to participate in Savor Fort Wayne, the city's version of a restaurant week, which begins Jan. 10.
It's a quick turnaround for the space, but as Henry says, the interior of the restaurant is new and there's not much work that needs to be done. He does have to install pizza ovens to bake the Chicago-style pies on the menu.
Also included on the will be sandwiches, stromboli and Rib Room favorites. Henry says he has been doing his due diligence talking to regulars of the Rib Room and keeping notes on the menu items they want to keep. Among them will be some of the salads, ribs and fries.
“I've spent this last week introducing myself to the current regulars and hope I can get a little excitement from them to keep being patrons,” Henry says. “It's a little frightening because they've had a 60-year history in the area.”
He says the younger families in the area are excited for the change. Henry hopes he can create a more casual atmosphere and make the restaurant a gathering place for the neighborhood.
“I'm really excited about being part of this community and to add to it,” he says. “The East State Village is a great spot, and I'm excited to work with my neighbors, ... to bring some vibrancy to the corridor.”
3rd Big Eyed open
Things rarely go according to plan when you open a restaurant. It's something Tim Allen has learned in his 14 years in the business.
And so after opening his third Big Eyed Fish location in August, he believes the kinks are worked out and he is ready to start spreading the word.
An express model like the spot on Hillegas Road, the restaurant on Dupont Road in Leo Crossing is primarily carryout with a few seats available for dining in. Fish lovers can get fried fish by the pound, seasoned catfish, salmon and shrimp, along with burgers, country fried steak and tenderloins.
Allen says the key to the menu is that items such as soups, side dishes such as macaroni and cheese and tartar sauce are all made in-house. The green beans have bacon, onion and butter – all the good stuff, he says.
The Dupont restaurant is in the former Dairy Queen space in Leo Crossing. Allen, who owns it with partner Tony Bryant, says the “express” business model has proved successful for Big Eyed Fish.
While some people enjoy the pub style of the original location, Allen says many people just don't have the time to sit down and eat a meal out. Busy families can grab dinner and go at the express stores.
Umi winter menu
With its new winter menu, Umi Fort Wayne is redefining sushi and tempting fans with new flavor combinations.
The sushirrito is the star of the southwest restaurant's seasonal list. A seaweed wrap is filled with sushi-grade fish, avocado and other toppings, rolled, dipped in tempura and fried to perfection.
“I've loved the idea of bringing something fresh and new to the Fort Wayne food scene, and I can't tell you how excited I am for this new menu item. It's sure to be a crowd pleaser,” says Zach Caldwell, head chef at Umi Fort Wayne.
Caldwell's sushi philosophy is that sushi and Japanese cuisine should be accessible to everyone. He hopes it becomes so mainstream that it's not uncommon for a sushi place to be a family-favorite destination.
Umi's rotating menu changes every winter, spring and summer. The winter menu also features seafood pancakes (okonomiyaki), grilled tuna cubes, tempura calamari, sautéed snapper, lobster tail lo mein, stuffed jalapeno tempura, fried tofu cubes, a half-dozen new sushi rolls including the Rock Roll that's made with shrimp tempura, unagi tempura, asparagus, oysters and eel sauce, and an array of vegetarian-friendly and gluten-free options.
Caliente Cuban Cafe is hosting a traditional celebration for the holidays.
Una Celebracion de la Noche Buena will be from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Dec. 23 and will feature buffet-style dining, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, a cash bar and desserts.
The cost is $18 for adults and $15 for younger than 12.
Space is limited, and reservations are required. Call the restaurant, 120 W. Wayne St., at 471-0900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Include how many adults and children in the party.
Waynedale Bakery on Lower Huntington Road is filling its ovens and display cases with treats for the Christmas season.
Iced sugar shaped cookies are $12 a dozen, Springerles (anise cookies) are $10 a dozen and Mexican Wedding Rings or Starlites cookies are $5 for a half-pound. Peanut butter balls are $9, peppermint bark is $6 and chocolate-covered pretzels are $5 (all prices per half-pound).
To order, call 747-2992.
The Dish features restaurant news and food events and appears Wednesdays. Fax news items to 461-8893, email email@example.com or call 461-8304.