A culinary nugget awaits within the resurrected Oakwood Resort

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By: Loren Shaum

Loren Shaum/Flavor 574

Nestled on the west side of Lake Wawasee is Oakwood Resort, a beautiful hotel recently resurrected by investors from Fort Wayne.

The new Oakwood Resort reopened on June 19, 2013 after undergoing extensive renovations and has not looked back since.

The Oakwood Park brings back memories of days long-gone when I and my wife (not quite married then) attended camp there. The old hotel was somewhat dilapidated until 1993, when the owners reconstructed the hotel into its current form.

Now the resort hotel offers 78 classy rooms plus 16 rental cabins scattered throughout the grounds. During peak season (May to October), it employees as many as 150 people – about half that during off season.

The resort also offers the Hilltop Banquet Hall with seating for 300, and the former park church, reconstructed as the resort’s event center with seating for 1,000. The hotel kitchen caters all events.

Within the resort hotel confines is a culinary nugget: The Pier restaurant and the outdoor patio, coined The Back Porch.

Serving both areas is large bar, which seats 37. The Pier seats 97 and is packed on most weekends. The Back Porch (which opens when temps reach into the 60s consistently) seats 60 and all seats are a premium during busy summer months.

This summer, The Back Porch plans to add an outdoor grill area that will feature grilled redfish, jerk chicken and burgers and dogs.

Rick Gibson, director of food and beverage, describes the venue as “eclectic, upscale casual.” Rick brings extensive experience from the Chicago food scene and has honed a culinary staff never before seen on Lake Wawasee. Led by Executive Chef Mark Royer, the staff includes sous chefs Blake Elick and Corey Sidell (recently from Kelly Jae’s Café in Goshen).

Mark, who graduated with a degree in hospitality from University of Louisiana-Lafayette and attended the Culinary Institute of America, describes his food as “simplistic with global influences.”

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Mark brings a Cajun influence to some of the dishes, with gumbo being The Pier’s signature soup. He loves classic French cuisine and relies heavily on the creativity of his sous chefs.

For example, one recent night, Blake created a crab trio consisting of a cup of crab bisque (so delightfully rich), a huge crab cake with large chunks of fresh crab, and finished with a fried soft-shelled crab — shipped fresh-caught and still alive from a purveyor in Louisiana. Mark has access to many sources from Louisiana and makes good use of those ingredients to share with the lake country crowd.

The winter menu carries the signature gumbo, plus a soup of the day. every day. Starters range from Wawasee shrimp to mussels to charcuterie, which changes every two weeks. Salads are rather basic, but the seared tuna is a featured salad and highly recommended.

Beef and chicken burgers are always a staple, but entrees provide something for everyone:

  • 12-oz. rib eye done your way
  • pan roasted airline chicken with mushrooms, potato mash, haricot verts and a thyme-honey reduction
  • orange blossom honey glazed salmon with roasted new potatoes, asparagus and a citrus-herb gastrique
  • wasabi encrusted Ahi tuna stack with Asian stir-fried vegetables and a scallion coulis
  • Italian flavored sausage (made in house from pork tenderloin) with apple, onion, sage and goat cheese stuffing served with polenta and braised greens with an apple-Riesling reduction
  • chorizo carbonara using penne pasta coated in egg and served with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan cheese

All are relatively complex dishes. But the highlight entrée is the Beef and Reef, a combination of an 8-oz. sirloin with a sweet chili glaze and a teriyaki glazed shrimp and scallop.

The Pier kitchen does most baking in house, including breads and even cinnamon rolls – offered during weekend brunches served from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday.

An easy drive for most in the Flavor574 area, the Oakwood Resort is a great weekend destination spot. It’s family friendly, with a sand beach, a tour boat (free for hotel guests) and many parking slots for boats and cars.

All that and outstanding cuisine make this one of Lake Country’s ideal destinations.

For more dispatches from the dining scene in Kosciusko County from Loren Shaum, subscribe to the Lake Country Escapades email newsletter.
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