Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island Weiner Stand
“Next table’s open,” a server shouted from the back. “Still need my four cheese dogs,” another called.
That’s the typical banter at Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island, the oldest in America, opening in 1914.
I was touring the Bradley Hotel when a server mentioned the Coney Island located across the street. My response was dismissive, “We have those in Michigan.” But he insisted, “Not like this, you don’t. You have to go. It’s an experience.” So, I did. And it was.
After a busy morning exploring Fort Wayne, Saturday lunch, I knew Mr. Follow the Piper and I, needed to try this. It would make him so happy because hot dogs are one food group he can’t live without.
When we arrived, they had a short line. We could get in immediately for to-go orders, but all the seats were occupied. If you need to sit while waiting for a table, you’ll find benches in front of the restaurant.
Their menu hasn’t changed much over the last 100 years. But, of course, it didn’t need to, as diners kept coming back, and every day they sell an average of over 2,000 hot dogs and hand-chop 70 pounds of onions.
The fantastic thing here is the price. For three dollars, you can get a beverage and a Coney dog. Lunch for two is way less than ten dollars.
As Coney Island is the oldest restaurant, not only in Fort Wayne but in America, Birdie’s is one of the newest, opening in July 2021. The casual rooftop restaurant sits on top of the Bradley Hotel and features an outdoor space with stunning views of downtown Fort Wayne.
Vera Bradley co-founder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard’s nickname is Birdie, and the restaurant took the name and ran with it in their vintage south Florida theme. The foyer walls feature a series of wooden bird cages. Images of birds decorate the walls.
Birdies is a full-service restaurant, and we had appetizers and cocktails to kick off our evening. First, we had the chickpea hummus served with cucumber slices and grilled pita for dippers. Grapes, olives, and roasted peppers rounded out the dish.
We also had the burrata plated in a pool of pesto and topped with roasted Delicata squash and Fresno chilies. They served it with crostini. The contrast of the creamy white burrata against the green pesto, red Fresnos, and the orange squash made for a colorful and pretty plate.
I added the blackberry Negroni cocktail, which combined gin, Campari, sweet vermouth, and blackberries for a delicious complement to the hummus.
You’ll find American fare on the menu, like burgers and fries. Another interesting choice is the mushroom risotto.
Mercado on the Landing
Located on the Landing, Mercado started from a food truck and evolved into a fun Cali-Mexican casual dining spot. Order at the counter from their seasonal menu for lunch, and they’ll bring it to your table when it’s ready. Black and white tile surround the stunning back bar lit with blue-colored lights. Colorful murals and paintings decorate the walls.
I ordered the taco combo with two tacos, beans, and rice. You can add more tacos to the plate if you like for an additional charge. I chose the carne asada and the chorizo taco, but they also have fish tacos and vegetarian options like pinto bean falafel tacos.
For those who prefer a burger to tacos, the one burger on the menu was the Pachola Burger made from Wood Farms beef, created as a west coast double-double smash patty, topped with melted American cheese. They added white onions, lettuce, and a guacamole sauce on a sesame seed studded bun. Finally, they served the burger with Duro chips. They created the Duro chips from cooked wagon-wheel pasta and then fried to a crispy crunch. The chips melted in your mouth for a fun alternative to fries or chips. You can substitute fries or Asada fries for an upcharge.
You’ll also find fajita bowls, wet burritos, and a variety of salads on the menu.
Think liquor from Mexico, and Agave spirits might come to mind over tequila, depending on the region. Mercado’s cocktails highlight Agave spirits, but they also have spectacular margaritas on their whimsical cocktail menu.
You’ll also find non-alcoholic family fun like horchata rice milk or a blackberry spiced hibiscus refresher called Winter Jamaica. They also offer a variety of fruit-flavored Jarritos. I enjoyed the mineral water known as Topo Chico.
Don Hall’s Old Gas House
The only remaining building of a historic gas plant downtown is home to Don Hall’s The Gas House, an up-scale white tablecloth steak house setting with approachable American food. Opened in the late 1950s as a restaurant, it features exposed brick and décor depicting Fort Wayne’s history.
You’ll find U.S.D.A. Choice steaks aged and butchered in-house, seared at 1800 degrees, and topped with garlic-herb butter. The filet mignon comes in various styles—seared topped with garlic-herb butter, au Poivre in a pepper crust with brandy mushrooms, Oscar Style Crab with hollandaise, and asparagus, bacon-wrapped with Béarnaise sauce, and black ‘n bleu with spicy Cajun blackened with bleu cheese. In addition, Friday and Saturday nights feature prime rib.
The menu offered three grilled seafood dishes—Atlantic salmon, yellowfin tuna, and gulf shrimp. With a choice of Atlantic salmon in one of four preparations. I selected it grilled with a Cajun blackened treatment and then topped with mango salsa. It came with pickled okra, and I decided on baked macaroni and cheese and gumbo as my sides. The pickled okra was a new dish for me, and it was the perfect foil for the rich salmon. While I would usually choose something lighter to go with the salmon, like veggies or rice, the baked macaroni and cheese was a wonderful comfort food dish. The gumbo featured a proper roux with andouille sausage and shrimp.
They bake round loaves of table bread fresh daily, sprinkling it with a blend of seasonings that includes garlic. Of course, you’ll want to keep eating.
We couldn’t resist the layered carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and a caramel drizzle for dessert.
Our server was efficient and made our experience by suggesting options based on our questions.
Shigs in Pit Barbecue
Shigs in Pit Barbecue features award-winning barbecue in a counter-service style restaurant. Order at the counter, and they’ll bring it to your table when it’s ready. They serve competition-style barbecue.
Served in paper-lined baskets, with paper boats and plastic silverware, it’s not fancy, but the décor is fun. Red and white checkered tablecloths adorn the tabletops while a cartoon-style chalkboard mural of dancing pigs decorates the wall. Accordion-pleated steal and exposed brick complete the décor.
While they offer all the typical barbecue meats, from pulled pork, brisket, and chopped chicken, to ribs and wings, we ordered the pit ham, burnt ends, and jalapeno cheddar sausage. You can select the number and types of meat included in your dinner, with two sides and Texas toast.
They offer creamy salads like macaroni salad and Cole slaw. My favorite side was the apple pie baked beans, with added bits of apples for a hint of sweetness to the beans. It was a deliciously different way to have baked beans, and I loved them. We also enjoyed the green Chile mac and cheese that featured a bit of heat.
Casa Ristoranti Italiano
If you’re planning an outing to Eagle Marsh Nature Preserve, Casa Ristoranti Italiano is just down the street. It makes the perfect location for dinner after an afternoon of working up an appetite exploring the great outdoors.
While they’re a full-service Italian restaurant, the star of their kitchen is the wood-fired pizza oven. Try the Indiana favorite, their sausage roll pizza. They make their dough from scratch and top it with fresh ground Italian sausage, a house-made tomato sauce, and a four-cheese blend with Parmesan, Provolone, and mozzarella cheeses.
Pair that pizza with their famous signature Insalata Cassburo, house salad. The salad is a mixture of romaine and iceberg lettuce mixed with the Italian cheese blend, sweet peppers, and green onions. They dress the entire salad with the house-made Casa dressing. Love the dressing? They’ve bottled it so you can buy some to take home.
They feature an entire section of pasta al Forno, from the oven. So, you’ll find a variety of baked pasta like lasagna, spaghetti, and mostaccioli. Then, they layer the pasta with rich meat sauce, ricotta cheese, Parmesan, Provolone, and mozzarella cheeses.
Be sure to try one of their decadent desserts. I enjoyed the tiramisu.
Located in downtown Fort Wayne, Copper Spoon is a fine-dining restaurant focusing on local farms and producers.
Copper Spoon’s bar is recognized as having some of the best cocktails in the Midwest. In 2020, the Tales of The Cocktail Foundation’s annual Spirited Awards nominated Copper Spoon for Best American Bar Team and Worlds Best Cocktail Menu.
Chef Aaron Butts, nominated twice as a James Beard “Best Chefs in America” semifinalist, brings all around excellence to diners. In addition, Aaron pioneered local in Fort Wayne’s food scene by creating relationships with many local Indiana farmers.
Try the cooked to perfection ribeye topped with chorizo butter and a sprinkling of sea salt, served with BBQ baby carrots and charred onion ranch.
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