The Back Porch Restaurant at Oakwood Resort has a new chef and a new menu

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By: Loren Shaum

Flavor 574 photo/Loren Shaum

Oakwood Resort has come a long way since the Parent family renovated the historic landmark. One recent change, however, is significant.

Rick Gibson, director of food and beverage at the resort, has added Ryan Wagner as executive chef. For Ryan, this is a dream come true and a homecoming, as well.

Having grown-up in New Paris, he attended Fairfield High School, and then entered the culinary scene. He worked in numerous restaurants around the Midwest and has gained a wealth of knowledge, which he is now implementing into entirely new menus for lunch and dinner for the resort restaurants.

LUNCH IS BUILT FOR THE LAKE CROWD

The signature soup is crab and pepper bisque, but there is always a daily soup special. On this day it was a spicy chicken tortilla soup — a south of the border classic with an extra kick.

There are nine small plates, with the buffalo blue tots and the coconut chicken spears being the most popular. The former are house-made tater tots, deep-fried and served with a blue cheese and chipotle sauce.

The chicken spears are Ryan’s take on chicken tenders. The spears are lightly breaded chicken breasts that are skewered, coated with pistachio and coconut and fried until crisp.

The charcuterie board is plenty for four people. European aged cheeses and meats coupled with seasonal fruit and crostini toasts make this a great starter for a boat crowd.

On the lighter side, five salads are offered with the popular Caesar chicken being a hit. Michigan Producers in Kalamazoo, Mich., sources much of the salad greens.

With the trend by the lake crowd toward mac and cheese dishes, Ryan has created five. The Memphis is the favorite. This creamy gob of goodness incorporates a Memphis-style bourbon barbecue sauce with pulled pork and is served with sweet corn and crispy onions. Another of Ryan’s creations is the Cajun — a combination of roasted crawfish and shrimp, coupled with andouille sausage from Didier Meats in Fort Wayne, bell peppers and red onions.

Under the Handhelds section, Ryan mixes popular burgers with unique dishes. I tried the pike-perch hoagie, which is made from a popular European freshwater fish — often referred to as Zander — and is commonly served in the Germanic areas of the European Union. Getting it in the U.S. is a rarity. The fish can be ordered blackened or fried. I chose blackened and was not disappointed. It was served in a fresh hoagie bun with gooey slices of American cheese and a light garlic mayo.

Surprisingly, the vegetarian black bean burger has been a popular selection. Topped with pepper jack cheese, pico de gallo and an avocado sauce, this is a burger that fills you quickly.

Unusual for these parts is the lobster and crab roll. This East Coast favorite combines two tender shellfish meats with house-made slaw, dried cranberries and citrus mayo.

All sandwiches are served with either sweet potato or regular fries.

DINNER MENU OFFERS UNIQUE SELECTIONS

The dinner menu includes the same small plates, salads, mac and cheese and soups as the lunch menu, but Ryan reduces the sandwich menu to two and offers a unique selection of entrée dishes. White Marble Farms, located throughout the Midwest, provides pork for the entrée dishes with the Porkhuterie Plate being a top selection. This plate comes with honey-smoked pork belly, chipotle-raspberry pork tenderloin and bourbon-glazed andouille sausage, It’s served with garlic mashed potatoes. This is a large plate so come hungry!

Besides the pike-perch entrée, Ryan offers barramundi. His take of this tender Australian sea bass includes an almond-pretzel crust and is served with a citrus butter sauce and coconut and pineapple rice.

There is also the grilled hanger steak, grilled rib eye, barbecue salmon and seared scallops with lobster ravioli. The latter is particularly colorful and bursts with flavor. The raviolis are cleverly put together using a chunk of fresh lobster between a squid ink ravioli pasta and a regular pasta making for a unique presentation.

DESSERTS ARE MADE IN-HOUSE

Crème brûlée is easily the dessert most people order, but the white chocolate cheesecake is also popular. Kathy’s Apple Pie is another dish that only the restaurant offers; it is a custard-based pie that is served with whipped cream and fresh blueberries. The two other desserts are the ultimate chocolate cake and the raspberry filled flake cake.

THE BACK PORCH IS OPEN FOR SUMMER

The Back Porch seats about 100 people and is on the resort docks. Boat parking is plentiful, but you can come by car and mosey through the resort hotel to the porch.

For relaxing ambiance with creative food options, the Back Porch is a great way to spend a warm summer day or evening. You can even take a ride on the resort yacht.

Oakwood Resort is located at 702 E. Lakeview Road, Syracuse. They are open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. They are open for dinner from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, and from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

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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