About a year ago, I met Gary Skeel, owner of the new downtown hot spot Wine Down. When we met, Gary and his wife’s plans for the restaurant were in their infancy, but his passion to make it a reality was palpable. Originally, they planned to locate the new restaurant on Dupont Road. For a downtown dweller like myself who considers anything north of Coliseum Boulevard practically out of bounds, the location was not ideal, but I vowed to give it a try once it opened. Fast forward a year, and news hits the street about a new restaurant opening in the Harrison. I was delighted to discover it was the Skeel’s dream coming to fruition.  I didn’t know what to expect when I popped into Wine Down for the first time a few weeks ago. I remember what Gary told me about the concept, but I wasn’t sure how it would translate. Walking into the place, I was wowed. It is upscale and impeccably decorated. It is cozy and inviting and offers several booths, tables and seating areas for intimate parties. It also has a private room for larger parties. It has a big city feel, and my friend and I commented several times that it felt like we had been transported out of Fort Wayne by simply walking through the doors. 

Just beyond the entryway is the bar, featuring a large horseshoe-shaped bar with a combination of large booths and high-top tables surrounding it. The much-talked-about wine vending machines are located at one end of the space. These temperature-controlled machines dispense 1-, 2.5-, and 5-ounce pours and are operated with a Wine Down debit card that tracks guest selections. Just past the bar and up a few stairs is additional seating—couches with low tables and more traditional four-top tables. Doors lead out to an expansive patio that sits right on Parkview Field’s concourse. When I visited, the outdoor seating had not yet arrived, but they assured me it had been ordered and will be ready in a few weeks. Our city needs more outdoor dining options, so this is a definite highlight. 

My friend and I bellied up to the bar and were greeted warmly by bartenders Trevor Scovel and Cory Barnard, both incredibly knowledgeable about the cocktail menu, and rightly so, since they had a hand in creating it. I was extremely impressed with the creativity and ingenuity of the drinks featured on the signature craft cocktail and signature wine menus. Here are some highlights.

Hibiscus Gin Sour ($8): Made with hibiscus flavorings and gin. This is a refreshingly simple drink and one that I will definitely order again.

Smoked Old Fashion ($12): Made with whiskey and a live smoked hickory glass. Yes, a live smoked hickory glass! The bartender pulled out a plank of hickory, took a torch to it to start it smoking and then set a glass over the smoke. The effect was subtle and delicious. If you are a whiskey drinker, you must try this drink. 

KoCo Rye ($12): Made with Chopin Rye vodka, champagne, red wine and fresh basil. The drink unfolds new flavors with each sip, none of which are overwhelming. One word to describe it: delightful. 

Washington Pinch ($10): Made with scotch blended with red wine, maraschino and orange liqueur. The scotch and red wine balanced each other nicely, and it finished with a subtle citrus flavor. 

Strawberry Basil Daiquiri ($8): Made with strawberry basil-infused rum added to a classic daiquiri recipe. This is definitely not your sorority girl daiquiri. It is made from scratch and catapulted to the top of our list once we sampled it.

But what about the food? As I read the menu, my heart rate quickened. There are so many items I wanted to try, each unique and inventive. It features a nice selection of shareable tapas plates, two cheese and meat board choices, soups and salads and four carefully crafted large plate options. 

Here are a few of the highlights:

Olive Tapenade ($6): Kalamata and manzanilla olives blended with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and olive oil, served with crostinis. This dish paired perfectly with our cocktails, and while it isn’t necessarily the most original dish on the menu, it was executed well – not too oily, not too bitter. We did have to ask for additional crostinis though, in order to finish the tapenade. 

Port Wine Basil Paté ($7): Classic paté blended with Port wine and sweet basil garnish with gherkins, served on baguettes. When this emerged from the kitchen, I was underwhelmed by the presentation, but the flavor was spot on. I’d recommend smaller baguettes and with the gherkins on the side. The pickle flavor overpowered the paté a bit, so I removed them and nibbled them separately to enjoy both flavors. 

Gourmet PB ’N’ J ($6): Bacon, Nutella, honey, black walnuts, raisins, raspberry preserves and chocolate chips served on cinnamon toast. Holy yum! I like all of these things on their own, but put them together and you have a flavor explosion. I highly recommend giving this dish a try, but certainly share it. It is sweetness overload. 

Shrimp ’N’ Grits ($16): New Orleans-style shrimp with creamy Gouda cheese grits, topped with sunny-side-up egg and crisp prosciutto. When I asked Gary what his favorite dish is, he pointed to this one. I have had shrimp ’n’ grits at many restaurants across the country, and this one ranks up there with the best. Perhaps it’s the egg. Whatever it is, they got it right. 

Ostrich Filet ($26): Seared tenderloin filets of ostrich, with a Cabernet demi-glace, served over horseradish Parmesan red skin smashed potatoes. Oddly enough, I grew up eating ostrich burgers in my rural hometown in Illinois and always enjoyed it. I had not, however, had an ostrich steak before, and it did not disappoint. Lean and flavorful, the ostrich paired well with the cabernet demi-glace and potatoes. 

If you’re looking for a fun and different dining experience, give Wine Down a try. You may want to make a reservation if you plan to dine there during the weekend. I have heard the wait time for a table is over two hours..