As I look back on 2014 in the area dining scene, an old Petula Clark song came to mind.
"Things will be great downtown."
Restaurants have been popping up all over the downtown area, and that is a great thing. And many of those places found a spot on my Best of 2014 lists:
Father John’s, Bryan, Ohio – The old church converted into this restaurant creates an eerie and stunning atmosphere, and its menu also impresses. Well worth the drive into Ohio.
Mockingbird Kitchens, 236 E. Wayne St. – Jim and Zoe Martin’s sandwich spot in Cottage Flowers featured locally sourced masterpieces with an upscale edge
Noa Noa, Warsaw – An island respite in northeast Indiana, it features exquisite fresh seafood prepared in ways nobody else in the area does.
Payne’s Coffee and Custard, Gas City – This hip little eatery just off Interstate 69 has gourmet offerings at everyday prices, a fantastic coffee menu and decadent desserts including rich, creamy frozen custard.
Sandra D’s Italian Garden, Auburn – After weathering severe storm damage that shut it down for four months, this place rebounded with a more modern look to go with its wonderful rustic Italian offerings.
Cassafrass roll; Noa Noa – An off-menu sushi roll invented by server Cassie Elkins by taking a spicy California roll – crab, avocado, cucumber and pepper flakes topped with spicy mayo – and then having tuna, eel sauce and tempura bits added. It was a perfect combination, and the crab was exquisite. And, yes, it now has its own spot on the menu.
Chicken soup; Buffalo Wings and Ribs, 4636 Coldwater Road and 6439 W. Jefferson Blvd. – You may go for the wings, but you will come back to this soup made the old-school way with house-made stock. I am often asked who has the best chicken soup in town, and the answer is now clear.
Crab cakes; Paula’s on Main, 1732 W. Main St. – I challenge you to find a meatier, more impressive cake anywhere in the country, let alone the area.
Smoked Pork Belly Mac and Cheese; Father John’s – Diced smoked pork mixed in the creamy white mac and cheese and two thick slabs of crisp belly on top made me quite happy.
Tots deluxe; Don Hall’s The Deck, 305 E. Superior St. – The perfect snack to go with a cold one or two at this awesome outdoor eatery on the river behind The Gas House. Crispy tots are topped with macaroni and cheese, zesty andouille sausage and green onions.
Una Bella pizza; Una Bella Pizza Napoletana, Wabash – This authentic Naples-style pie was topped with house-made mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, artichoke hearts, prosciutto, peppadew peppers, mushrooms and herbs.
Crispy Duck; West Coast Grill, 2310 S. Calhoun St. and in Glenbrook Square – Call ahead for this treat and tell owner Lee Truong how many will be sharing it. He will have the Peking-style dish ready when you arrive and will likely ceremoniously carve and serve it to you tableside, placing chunks of the crisp, fatty duck in tender lotus rolls with green onions and a smear of plum sauce. And then he will take the leftover bones and carcass and turn it into a tasty ramen noodle soup for you.
Pork chop; Hideout 125, 10350 Coldwater Road – The thick, bone-in, 12-ounce, center-cut chop topped with apple butter was juicy from end to end and has no rivals.
Seafood soup; El Salvador, 2020 E. Washington Blvd. – Each bowl of this wonderful elixir is made to order starting with a scratch-made seafood stock that truly has the fragrance of the sea. Clams, mussels, a plethora of jumbo shrimp and part of a whole lobster – head and body, claws or a tail – are cooked to perfection in that stock. The lobster head and body with its tomalley adds the most flavor, but I am going to ask for a tail next time because, why not?
Shrimp salad sandwich; Mockingbird – Poached and chilled shrimp dressed with just enough creamy citrus vinaigrette and mixed with fresh sweet corn, celery, butter lettuce and cherry tomatoes on herbed foccacia bread created a masterpiece.
Beeramisu; Black Canyon, 1509 W. DuPont Road – Lady fingers are soaked with Guinness stout before being layered with sweetened mascarpone cheese and dusted with espresso powder.
James Dean Sundae; Payne’s – Vanilla frozen custard and fresh raspberries with a shot of espresso poured over it
Peanut Butter Cup; Main Street Bistro, 200 E. Main St. – The glass layered with vanilla ice cream, devil’s food cake crumbles, chocolate ganache and peanut butter mousse was masterful.
Pecan Pie; Central City Café, 620 S. Calhoun St. – A straight-forward version with little sugary goo so the fresh, crunchy nuts shine.
Pistachio cheesecake; Henry’s, 536 W. Main St. – This light green beauty has finely ground pistachios throughout and a buttery graham cracker crust.
Big Apple Pizza, 1130 N. Wells St. – New York-style pizzas have finally hit the Fort and they are fantastic.
Bravas Burgers, 3412 Fairfield Ave. – The hot-dog-cart-turned-food-truck has now turned into a restaurant serving great burgers.
Central City Café– A snazzy looking downtown addition.
Hideout 125 – Out-of-this-world cocktails meet great food here.
Main Street Bistro – The former Park Place on Main finally has a suitable replacement with this trendy eatery.
Phoenix, 1122 Broadway – A one-of-a-kind place that is as much of a live music venue as it is a restaurant and nightclub.
Scotty’s Brewhouse, 6282 W. Jefferson Blvd. – The chain that has a devout following in college towns throughout the state finally made it here.
Atz’s, 211 E. Tillman Road and 3235 N. Anthony Blvd. – The saddest closing of the year. The storied ice cream parlors – home to the awesome Mad Anthony Sundae – faded into a memory after a rough year that started with health department closures.
Carlos O’Kelly’s, 5735 Falls Drive and 549 Coliseum Blvd. N. – Another that hit some hard as this Mexican chain was simply past its prime.
Paper Lantern, 4610 Coldwater Road – One of my favorite Asian-fusion places was destroyed by fire in January.
Open and shut
Mockingbird– Opened and was a hit but had to close this winter due to lack of foot traffic and difficulty getting fresh ingredients. Plans to reopen in April, but we shall see.
Deli 620, 110 W. Berry St. – Was forced out of its longtime home to make way for Central City Cafe, but rebounded wonderfully on the seventh floor of the PNC Bank building.
Taqueria El Ranchito, 4520 Parnell Ave. – Another place forced to close by a new owner, it also found a nicer home in Coliseum Plaza.
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.