Wine Down – Fort Wayne, IN

On a recent business trip I found myself in America’s heartland of manufacturing, Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Of course I did some pre-trip research and found some great reviews for a upscale tapas bar in downtown near the convention center.  I was surprised and delighted to find Wine Down just a short walk from my hotel.  A wonderful selection of wine, craft cocktails and fine food were just ahead on a rainy evening.

Located next to the minor league baseball stadium, you’ll find this cozy dark spot with a wine cellar feel.  The surroundings are upscale, but not stuffy and provide a great atmosphere for a glass of wine and a small plate or a full dining experience.  We settled into a tall table in the bar area and were greeted by a friendly server.  She explained the vast array of wines and showed us the beautifully created cocktail menu.  From classics to inventive drinks made with liqueurs and aromatics, you can hardly pull yourself away without trying something.  The old fashioned served in a smoked glass was excellent!

Looking at the menu, it’s hard for me to pass up a great charcuterie plate.  Wine Down’s was a well-curated mix of salty meats, full-flavor cheeses, quince paste and the like.  This was a hearty plate, but a little variety with a blue cheese and/or pate would make it perfect.  We also sampled the three-cheese arancini, which were rich, gooey and perfect offset by the slightly spicy marinara.  The sautéed Brussels sprouts with apple, bacon and blue cheese were excellent, even if the sprouts got a little lost in the other ingredients.  Finally, we split a filet burger and papas fritas.  Cooked to perfection, it was juicy, decadent and the perfect bun-to-meat ratio – bravo!

Honestly, there wasn’t enough time to taste and imbibe in all that I wanted to.  It’s a beautiful place with a surprising and fresh mix of fine food and drinks for a business dinner, cocktail night or a special occasion.  I honestly look forward to coming back soon.  Check out the menu and read about the owners, The Skeels, at winedownfw.com.  Dig in!

386 – Palm Coast, FL

Nestled along the A1A on Florida’s northeast coast is a little hidden restaurant gem, at least to those that aren’t local, called 386.  Self-billed as “a fusion of fine dining”, you would never suspect the inventive and delicious menu that’s served inside the charming ramshackle building.  Having a reservation proved to be a wise move as it was packed on Friday night!  We walked through the gravel parking lot into the small rundown building unaware of the fantastic experience we were about to have.

Inside the door you are greeted by a lively crowded bar and then moved to a comfy dining room to the left.  Seating isn’t cramped, but they definitely pack in the people into their little spot.  We ordered wine and craft beer from an ample list and listened to a long selection of chef’s specials for the night.  How could we pass up the warm brie with brown sugar and balsamic served with parmesan crisps??  It was warm rich and creamy, without being overly sweet.  While the crisps were good, I thought the brie was much better on the warm bread they served as well.  We had a selection of salads next – the garden, the wedge and also the roasted beet special.  Red and golden beets with walnuts, goat cheese and vinaigrette tuned out to be a perfect choice!  Although my pet peeve is that it was served on a black plate – why mask those beautiful colors?!  I can tell you that I haven’t had better elsewhere though.

The menu has a ton of options from small plates to entrees and everything we saw coming out of the kitchen looked scrumptious.  Our table had a good sampling of entrees – Kansas City pork chop, herbed lamb chops, grilled ribeye and parmesan-crusted trout.  The meats were all healthy portions, cooked perfectly and served with simple, but tasty sides (think mom’s starch and veggie).  I ordered the trout, a huge portion crusted with parmesan bread crumbs and sage.  While the sage was a bit heavy, the fish was crisp and perfectly done.  Served with a simple risotto and green beans, it was all topped with a white wine butter sauce.

Dressed up or dressed down, a large group or an intimate dinner, you will love the inventive and well-cooked food at 386.  It’s clear that locals love this place as it was busy throughout the night!  Great service, comfortable surroundings and some of the best food in the area make this a must-visit if you’re in the area on vacation or if you live close by.  Find out more and check out the menu at threeeightsix.com.  Dig in!!