I wrote about restaurants yesterday, mostly chain steakhouses. It shouldn't go unremarked that the patriarchs of two of Fort Wayne's most well-known restaurants (and, as it happens, a couple of my favorites) died last week within a couple of days of each other. On Monday, Hartley McLeod died at 81. On Wednesday, Evangelos"Von" Filippou died at 87. Both stories should have been Page 1 news, but they got -- well, buried in the obits.
Hartley was a Komet from 1954 to 1958, then went on to be an IHL lineman for years before opening Hartley's Place in 1983, perhaps the city's most highly regarded homegrown, high-end restaurant. When my mother was still alive and most of my family still lived in Fort Wayne, we went there once a month, and I never had a bad bite of food there, let alone a bad meal or experience. Hartley's success is all the more remarkable for its location, in a too-small building with hardly any parking, in the middle of a neighborhood on South Fairfield in the wrong part of town.
Filippou came here from Greece in 1952, after the unpleasantness with the Communists, and opened Nick's Rib Bar (later Nick & Von's) with his partner Nick Stamenis in 1958. What can I say about the Rib Room that I haven't said before? I've spent so many Friday nights there, with my shrimp cocktail and rib basket and fries, helping Sam Filippou, son of Von, plot the secret plans of the Midwest chapter of the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy.
I won't ry to convince you of the delights of the dining experiences of Hartley's or the Rib Room if you've never been to either of them. We all find the places we like for the reasons we have. But those two places, like a handful of others, are uniquely Fort Wayne. No other city has a Hartley's or a Rib Room. They were created by people who came here and liked the place and made it better with their visions and hard work. Praise be for the Steve Gards and the Noelle Reiths who keep hanging in there.