Junk Ditch Brewing Company

Well, another day, another farm-to-fork restaurant opening in Fort Wayne…it’s kind of old hat by now, right?

(record scratch)

Wendy: Hold the phone, Beth. What’s going on around here?

Beth: I know! It seems like every time we turn around, there’s a hot new place opening up. And it is our obligation to you, readers, to check these places out as fast as our wallets can handle it.

The team behind the Affine food truck has expanded (the truck still exists, this hasn’t replaced it) into a full-fledged restaurant, with their own (and other) craft beers and an ever-evolving menu of small and large plates designed for sharing (yay for getting to try lots of things!).

We were going to mix things up a little and check out their brunch for our official review, and assembled a crew to go with us, but at the last minute Beth had a conflict, so Wendy and crew went anyway, and we’ll share a little about that with you also.

Our official outing was Saturday night dinner. We arrived around 7:00, and the parking lot outside the converted warehouse space was overflowing. Junk Ditch does not take reservations, and clearly we were not the only people wanting to check it out. The friendly hostess took our name and phone number, and said she’d call us when our table was ready, which conveniently allowed us to wander about outside for a while. She suggested it would be around 45 minutes. It was actually more like 46.

We weren’t sure how much food to order, so we consulted with our server and asked for his recommendations as well. He suggested that if we were just normal amounts of hungry (versus I could eat a large land mammal hungry), 2-3 small plates and one large plate would probably suffice, and he was correct. All of the large plates sounded good to us, but a number of the small plates sounded…maybe a little intimidating? Pig ears, veal tongue, sweetbreads…we’re open and adventurous, so we decided we had to try at least one out of the box offering.

Our waiter’s first recommendation was the Panzanella, a new item on the menu, featuring baby octopus that he said was beautifully cooked and tender, and he did such a nice sales pitch that it was one of our selections.

We ordered:

Panzanella ($7): heirloom tomato, basil, arugula, crispy baby octopus, green beans, and GK baguette in balsamic vinaigrette

Green Tomato Caesar ($8): green tomato, oyster Caesar, red onion, pepitas, lardons, cured egg yolk, kale

Chuck Roast ($34): herbed Anson Mills polenta, Joseph Decuis Farm Wagyu chuck roast, gochujang, scallion, sesame seeds, cilantro, slow egg

Let’s talk about the small plates first since those came first, shall we?

Panzenella

Panzanella

Wendy: I’ve only had octopus once before, and I did not care for it at all then. It tasted too…octopussy. It was kind of chewy and bleh. Pretty much the opposite of the deliciousness presented on the little plate of goodness we got. That panzanella was fab. I was talking yesterday to someone else who had it recently and all I could think about was wanting to taste that balsamic vinaigrette again.  And the octopus was anything but chewy – it kind of melted in your mouth, which became a theme for the evening for me. It would not have been a bad thing if there had been more octopus on that plate.

Beth: I’ve never had octopus before. I was a little nervous about ordering it, as I don’t typically like to eat food that resembles what it was when it was alive. However, this was described as “crispy” so I assumed (correctly) that it was fried. It was delicious. I was still somewhat put off by the thought of baby octopus, but that’s a Beth thing. Also, because Junk Ditch is a brewery, I opted for a 4th River American Pale Ale, brewed by Junk Ditch. It was tasty and a very nice start to what ended up being an exceptional evening.

greentomato

Green Tomato Caesar

Wendy: The Caesar deal-io was fine, but didn’t really excite me much. I continue not to understand the world’s fascination with kale. But I enjoyed the green tomato, and the lardon was bacon-y cubes of happiness. I did think the teeny, tiny plates they brought us to eat off of were too wee to be practical. I felt like I could only put one or two bites of food on my plate at a time. I appreciate the “small plate” aspect, but the logistics don’t have to be quite so literal.

Beth: I agree with Wendy on the Green Tomato Caesar. I suggested ordering it as our “safe” dish, considering how creative the rest of the small plate menu seemed to be. It was good, but definitely the weak link of the evening.

And then came the chuck roast…

chuck

Beth: All of the large plates sounded amazing, but the stand out for me seemed to be the chuck roast. When I think of roast, I think of tedious Tuesday night dinners when my mom would top a pot roast with Lipton Onion soup. Imagine my surprise to see a chuck roast on the menu and have it sound so very intriguing. And, as a result, was happy to see that our gamble paid off — it was AMAZING. Such a unique blending of flavors and a roast that was like none that I’ve ever had.

I’m going to veer off-topic for a second here and say how pleased I am to see restaurants of this caliber springing up in Fort Wayne. Once upon I time I swore that Fort Wayne would only support chain restaurants and that anything upscale didn’t have a snowball’s chance. That is no longer true. And, what’s even more impressive is that Junk Ditch has a very casual vibe. I wore a T-shirt and jeans and felt very comfortable there.

Wendy: Chuck roast is not something I would ever order – it doesn’t seem like “going out to eat” food. Maybe that’s one reason I wanted to try it – as in, how’d it make it onto this menu?  Let me sum it up in one word: mmmmmmmmmmm. (Is that a word, or more of a sound effect?) That meat was so tender and the polenta was so creamy – a bite of them together goes right back to that melt in your mouth experience. So good. So very, very good. And really an ample portion, definitely plenty for two and if it were for a bigger group into food sharing, plenty for multiple people to get in on the action.

One piece of feedback for Junk Ditch: serving utensils would be supremely helpful, especially for a goopy dish like this. Once you factor in the runniness of the egg, it was challenging to move food to our (thankfully larger than previous) plates.

Dessert? Yes, please! 

 

carrot

Carrot

Beth: I opted for the carrot cake, also known as “Carrot” ($7). The simple description of carrot, pineapple and pecan doesn’t even begin to tell the tale of this scrumptious platter. The carrot cake was more like a roll, with cream cheese rolled up inside of it. All of the rest was found on the plate along with a glaze that brought it all together. It was delicious and carbs be damned!

 

 

 

icecream

Coffee Caramel Ice Cream

Wendy: They were out of the cherry & beet tart which was what I’d had my eye on, but when our server told us they churn their own ice cream every day that intrigued me. Ice cream is tricky – were they up to the task? Why yes, yes they were. I ordered one scoop ($3) of the coffee caramel, which was accompanied by a stick of shortbread. I don’t drink coffee, but have affection for coffee-flavored ice cream, and this was the best I’ve ever had. The flavor was strong, and probably would have been too intense (for me) was it not for the balance provided by the caramel swirled over it.

 

 

 

And now, you’re in luck – it’s bonus brunch review time!

Let’s talk about brunch, baby
Let’s talk about these pastries

Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about brunch.

(I don’t know…apparently we sing during our reviews now.)

Except those lyrics are wrong – THERE ARE NO BAD THINGS ABOUT THIS BRUNCH.

Beth: Except it apparently needed Salt-N-Pepa?

 

chickenandwaffles

Chicken & Waffles

Wendy: (Ignoring bad pun) To remind you, Beth had a last minute conflict, so I went to brunch with previous guests of the blog Kron and my dad, and our friend Rich. Here are the things I got to taste: Eggs Benedict, Biscuits and Gravy, Potato Rosti, all the items on the Pastry Board, and I devoured the Chicken & Waffles. Everything was scrumptious and well executed, and the one I would have liked to have had more of (and will go back to eat again soon) was the Potato Rosti.  Ooh, and the cinnamon roll on the pastry board. Yeah. Yum. Yummy yum yum.

Here’s a summary of the table’s experience, courtesy of the Kron: “It’s a great time in Fort Wayne to have a stomach.”

The verdict

Beth: I say, “Push it real good.” Okay, enough with the Salt-N-Pepa references, but seriously, it was REAL GOOD. My verdict is most certainly “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Wendy:I’ll have what she’s having.” I want to go back and eat everything before they change the menu, and then go back and eat everything all over again after they change the menu, and so on and so on.

Junk Ditch Brewing Company
1825 West Main Street
Fort Wayne, IN, 46808
260 203-4045
junkditchbrewingco.com

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The Hoppy Gnome

The wave of new restaurants continues, and we had the good fortune to get an early look at The Hoppy Gnome, a brand new gastropub featuring unique tacos and an extensive craft beer list.

FULL DISCLOSURE: We did not pay for our meal. In defense of our integrity, we did not know or expect that going in. Even before learning that the meal was gratis, we weren’t intending to write up our experience because it seemed unfair to judge a restaurant before they were officially open for business. Our friend Mike invited a few of us to join him for dinner during the soft opening, and we discovered that evening that the restaurant was picking up (the majority of) the tab, not just for us, but for all the diners. And in the end we felt the restaurant performed at such a level that there’s no need to hold off on sharing what we think. And now, on with the show!

The Hoppy Gnome is on the street level of the Anthony Wayne building, a former bank and office building in the heart of downtown that has recently been renovated into condos, with commercial space on the lower floors. The space is beautiful: sleek and modern, with a great view of the Courthouse Green and a distinct urban vibe. There are two tweaks that should be addressed. First, the west-facing wall of windows is gorgeous, but the setting sun was shining directly into the eyes of all the diners facing that direction. The staff apologized for it repeatedly, but there was nothing to be done. Hopefully they’ll find a treatment for the windows that preserves that ambiance but cuts the glare. Secondly, all the hard surfaces and open spaces made for a very loud room. Hmm, maybe they know what they’re doing after all…maybe impairing our senses of sight and sound makes us focus more on smell and taste!

There were four of us at dinner: Beth & Wendy (duh), and our friends Mike and Gina, so we had the opportunity to sample a lot of the food on the innovative menu. Fortunately we are all willing food sharers (and don’t have any communicable diseases).

2015-07-10 19.22.34Beth and Mike each got a flight of beers to try. There is a beer list on a chalkboard in the bar area, but they do not provide one at the tables; however the staff seems to be prepped to make recommendations. Beth and Mike each shared a little about their beer preferences and the server magically produced flights based on that input. Beth:  I loved my flight, my favorite being something called “Gumballhead.” Gina had a Rasputin stout, a beer so dark it was deserving of that name. Wendy opted for the sangria, a white wine version with fruit served over ice. The sangria, while light and refreshing, actually was a bit flavorless and watered down. At one point front of the house stopped by the table and specifically asked how the sangria tasted, and upon hearing that feedback promptly brought another glass with ice on the side instead of in the wine. We could tell just by looking at it that it was less diluted, and was plenty cold without the addition of ice.

2015-07-10 19.32.41

Tres Sopes

The table shared three starters: huarache (corn masa flatbread with braised short rib, fire roasted salsa, black bean puree, queso fresco and smoked jalapeno crema, $9), tres sopes (duck confit, pork carnitas, short ribs, salsa verde, cabbage and radish, $9) and the ceviche (sashimi grade tuna, serrano pepper guacamole, mango salsa, tortilla chips, $9). All three were abundant for sharing, especially the huarache.

Ceviche

Ceviche

Wendy: All three of the apps were yummy. The huarache was huge, and I loved the black bean puree on it. I tasted the least of the tres sopes so I don’t have much to comment on those other than that the bite I had was good. But for me, the star was the ceviche. It was flavorful and fresh and I kind of wanted to lick the bowl (but Mike won that battle). The chips were a tad on the greasy side, but still crisp. However, I did ask my dining companions if they would characterize it as ceviche (a seafood dish) or fantastic guacamole that had some sashimi in it. My take was that it was guac. Delicious, delicious guac.

Beth: My favorite starter was the huarache. I would have been content with just that and my flight of beers. However, the rest were delicious as well.

The Hoppy Gnome features eight unique tacos on the menu, and we tried them all. You can pick any 2 for $9 or any 3 for $13.

  • Duck Confit (Mapleleaf Farms duck leg, pasilla pepper infused olive oil, chipotle and tart cherry salsa, queso fresco)
  • The Bob Marely (smoked jerk chicken, hemp seeds, charred pineapple salsa, fire roasted red peppers, sour cream )
  • Togorashi Tuna (+$0.50) (ahi tuna with togorashi spices, Asian pickled cucumber salad, crushed sriracha peas)
  • Korean Short Rib and The Three Little Pigs tacos

    Korean Short Rib and The Three Little Pigs tacos

    Korean Short Rib (48-hour braised beef short rib, Korean BBQ sauce, cilantro-lime-cabbage slaw)

  • Dante’s Inferno (garlic-chili tempura chicken, pepperjack cheese, seven levels of hell hot sauce, sweet potato threads)
  • Pork Belly Monfongo (crispy mashed plantain, sous vide pork belly, “Mexican truffles” huitalocoche – sweet corn relish)
  • Three Little Pigs (pork belly, carnitas, smoked cheek, tossed in a Kentucky whiskey glaze, tabasco spiked sweet potato hay)
  • La Taqueria (choice of carnitas, short rib or chicken – we had short rib – onions, cilantro, salsa verde)

We also sampled one of the tortas (a Mexican sandwich), the Cubana (braised carnitas, smoked pork cheek with black bean puree, cilantro crema, spicy mustard, avocado and queso Chihuahua, $10).

Wendy: Eating one or two bites of eight different tacos makes it hard to have strong opinions of any of them, but I ate the most of the duck confit, so I think that was my favorite. I loved the flavors and the duck was tender, which I find to be a duck rarity. Other notable bites: the mashed plantains in the Pork Belly taco were lovely, and the togorashi tuna taco had great textures, I think from the crunch of the peas. I would happily eat all of those again. My least favorite was probably La Taqueria. There was nothing wrong with it; it just didn’t stand out against the others. (I did not try Dante’s Inferno.) The torta was also just fine, but I was all about the tacos and focused my attention there. I did find the menu lacking on vegetarian options: one torta and I think both salads start out vegetarian (ooh, a salad for a vegetarian). I know the Gnome is proud of their slow-cooked meats, but with such an inventive menu and so many ingredients at their disposal, it would be easy to offer one or two unique veg-friendly tacos.

Duck Confit, Pork Belly Monfongo, La Taqueria

Duck Confit, Pork Belly Monfongo, La Taqueria

Beth: I loved all of the tacos, but the standout for me was the Korean Short Rib, but they were all very good. The table agreed that Dante’s Inferno didn’t live up to its reputation of seven layers of hellish hotness. In fact, it wasn’t very hot at all. It was tasty, though.

The Hoppy Gnome offers two desserts on their menu, and we had both: the strawberry shortcake (macerated strawberries, Chantilly cream, gluten-free shortbread cookies, $5) and s’mores (housemade Tahitian vanilla bean marshmallows, dark Belgian chocolate bark, housemade graham crackers, $5, five pieces). The s’mores were assembled by the diners, with a little hibachi grill to toast our own marshmallows.

S'mores!

S’mores!

Wendy: I had one bite of the shortcake before it moved to the other side of the table and never came back. It was good, but I was ok with that because I’m not a huge strawberry fan and I was too busy eating more than my share of the s’mores. The some-assembly-required nature of it was a little gimmicky and a lot messy, and with one skewer only one person at a time could have dessert, but when have s’mores not been delicious?

Beth: I loved the gimmickry of the s’mores. I’m not even a fan of them during cookouts, but I thought it was a fun and sweet way to end our meal.

The verdict:

Wendy: “You had me at ‘hello’.”

I was conflicted between this and our highest rating. I love a menu that challenges me, makes me ask questions, and has ingredients and preparation techniques that I’ve only heard on cooking shows. This is a welcome addition to the mix, and I find it to be a great balance of cool aesthetics, interesting and delicious food, top-notch service and reasonable prices. I definitely am eager for my next trip back – let me know if you want to get tacos!

Beth: “I’ll have what she’s having.

I am not conflicted. I think if they can do this well before they even open, who knows what heights they can achieve. I’m hoppy! (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?)

The Hoppy Gnome

203 E. Berry St.

Fort Wayne, IN 46802

260.422.0070