South of Fort Wayne, in Gas City, lies a hidden gem that is well worth the drive, Payne’s Restaurant. This eclectic restaurant was founded over 10 years ago by Stephen Payne who was born in England and travelled to the United States to visit the birthplace of James Dean in nearby Fairmont. Long story short, he ended up falling in love with this country and eventually opened Payne’s, which can be described as a free-spirited restaurant that is serious about food.
Many of Payne’s dishes are heavily influenced by Stephen’s British background. He and his wife operate the business together and have created a truly one-of-a-kind dining experience that you wouldn’t expect to find nestled among gas stations at a nondescript exit off the interstate. In fact, most people probably know the Gas City exit by the town’s questionable choice of the Comic Sans font used on the water tower.
I’ve made several trip to Payne’s and rate it as one of my top 10 restaurants in northeast Indiana. The restaurant is small – just a one-room space filled with booths and tables – and it is always busy. The décor is kitschy and cozy. During the spring and summer months, the urban garden is in full bloom, and many of the items on the menu are influenced by what’s growing outside.
That said, the menu is constantly changing, so each time I go back it’s like Christmas – I never know what wonderful surprises await. Payne’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Just make sure you arrive hungry; portion sizes are huge.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Bangers and Mash ($12): Traditional British sausage, rutabaga/potato mash and Sweet Scrumpy’s onion gravy. I have had this dish at several local and regional restaurants, but this version is my favorite. The addition of the slightly bitter rutabaga in the rutabaga/potato mash adds a sophistication to this dish that is lacking in other versions I’ve sampled. And as I mentioned before, the portion sizes are huge. This dish easily provides a few days’ worth of leftovers.
British Chicken Curry ($14): Mild aromatic korma with steamed potatoes and naan bread. This dish is an explosion of flavors, simultaneously sweet and savory. The naan bread is house-made and serves as the perfect vehicle for sopping up all of the delicious spiced sauce. The chicken is juicy and the potatoes are smooth, complementing each other and the complex flavors. Even if you think you don’t like curry, this is a must-try menu item.
Huntsman’s Breakfast ($10): Grilled ham steak, grilled potato cake and over easy-eggs. This dish is almost too beautiful to eat. It comes stacked high on the plate and garnished with fresh herbs from the garden. The ham steak is about as big as your head, and the grilled potato cakes add a much-needed savory smoothness. And, you can’t go wrong when you top a dish with an over easy egg. All that yummy gooiness drizzles down and meshes with the other flavors in a way that can’t be described.
Bourriche Grilled Cheese & Cock-a-leekie Soup ($9): Cock-a-leekie soup, a Scottish classic dating back to the 1590s, is made with leeks, prunes and chicken. The soup presents an interesting mix of flavors; the sweetness of the prunes, combined with the savory chicken and onion-like leeks, results in a surprisingly pleasant experience. I asked our server several times to explain Bourriche to me, and I am still not sure what it means. What I do know is this is one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve ever had. Bourriche refers to the type of bread it was served on, which was not like bread at all. It was more like a puffed, but dense pastry, stuffed with several types of cheeses. It is impossible to eat like a sandwich; it definitely requires a knife and fork, but delicious just doesn’t do it justice.
In addition to the items mentioned above, Payne’s offers a wide selection of soups, sandwiches and entrees and an impressive selection of dessert custards. I have always been too full after my meal to venture into dessert, but I have my eye on James Dean’s Payne: vanilla custard, raspberries and espresso. Yum!
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Josh Johnson — Comedy at Calhoun Street Soups, Salads & Spirits, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., $10, (260) 456-7005
Vince Gill — Country at Embassy Theatre, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., $39.50-$79.50, 424-5665
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Community Orchestra — Mussorsky's Pictures at an Exhibition at Auer Performance Hall, Rhinehart Music Center, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m., $4-$7, 481-6555
Open Mic Night — Variety at Checkerz Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-10 p.m., no cover, 489-0286
Scratch N Sniff 2.0 w/1/4 Kit Kurt — Variety at Deer Park Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8 p.m., no cover, 432-8966
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Fort Wayne Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Three Rivers Karaoke w/Rob — at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
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41st SOCA Student Exhibition — Works from students currently enrolled at USF’s School of Creative Arts, daily thru April 30, Weatherhead Gallery, USF Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Rhoda Gerig: The Hope of Eagles — Photographic images of eagles, daily thru June 4, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Exhibition of works by IPFW graduation seniors, daily thru May 3 , Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery, Main Library, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Senior thesis projects from Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates Brenda Drayer (sculpture), Derek Hibbs (printmaking), Ellen Mensch (painting), Nathaniel Morris (sculpture) and Kyle Snodgrass (sculpture), daily thru May 7, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709