August 26, 2010
Hoosier Must Eats

My wife and I are great food adventurers.  We strongly believe in the old adage of “when in Rome….”  So, whenever we travel, we always try to track down where the locals eat.   We will inquire at the desk of our hotel or check in with the visitors’ bureau to find out where they would go for a night out.  As a result, we’ve had some great experiences.

On our honeymoon to Charleston, S.C., a well-known Southern cookbook author directed us to the Edisto Motel for a true Low Country meal.  Housed in a 1950s motel, the restaurant, replete with its red vinyl seating and paper napkins, attracted all of the locals who parked their bikes, pickup trucks, and Mercedes in the gravel parking lot and mingled over a “bring your own beverage” of choice while they waited for a table.  Inside, diners selected from an array of deep fried fresh seafood accompanied by traditional Southern side dishes, all served in plastic baskets.  What a meal!

We have had similar experiences while visiting a local hangout on the Outer Banks of North Carolina – sitting at a picnic table while peeling fresh shrimp and shucking oysters – or sitting on a dock in Newburyport, Mass., consuming fish stew and lobsters just off the boat.  When we drive through the South, my wife, a true connoisseur of barbecue, is always on the lookout for local eateries that represent the diverse types of this delicacy.

One of our most memorable occasions was when we visited Haarlem, The Netherlands – the homeland of my ancestors.  Upon checking in to our cozy hotel on the town square, we inquired about a place to eat.  Knowing that we were Americans, the hotel keeper, with a smile, pointed across the square to McDonald’s.  We politely thanked him but proceeded to tell him that we do not eat at McDonald’s in the U.S. and really wanted to eat where he and his friends would take a meal.  So, he directed us down a quaint canal to a neighborhood pub where we were treated to wonderful regional dishes among local Haarlem residents.  We were much surprised when our waiter informed us that he knew about Indiana and the Midwest since he had been to the Kentucky Derby while visiting his mother’s boarding school roommate who lived in Louisville.

We’re not alone in our food adventures.  Among the best known American food writers are Jane and Michael Stern who have published a popular book entitled Roadfood.  The Sterns define “roadfood” as

… informal food made by the cooks, pitmasters, bakers, and hash slingers who    are America’s culinary folk artists.  Roadfood is almost always inexpensive; our criteria include great eats, local color, and a dining experience with genuine character.  You will not find Roadfood in the four-star restaurant with a celebrity chef and a long reservations list; you will find it in America’s hot dog joints, lobster pounds, pancake parlors, roadside diners, ham houses, hamburger huts, and chicken shacks.            [Roadfood, Broadway Books, 2002, p. xi ]

Other food and travel writers also focus on local cuisine.  Food Network personality and author Alton Brown has done two “Feasting on Asphalt” books – one that features local eateries during his four week trip from the Isle of Palms, S.C., to Los Angeles and a second that began in Venice, La and traveled north to find the source of the Mississippi River – both seeking to capture some of the local flavors of those journeys.

Similarly, well-known travel writer and tour guide Rick Steves, whose travel shows are broadcast on PBS stations, focuses on Europe “through the back door,” visiting towns and regions that are off the beaten path of regular tourists.  By this method, Steves brings his viewers, readers, and tourists into contact with the local people and their cuisines – a truly enriching experience to which we can attest since we planned our European trips using his guidebooks.

So, we think this “Must Eat” section should highlight those eateries around Indiana that stand out for their unique and time-tested foods.  They might be diners off the beaten path in a small town.  They could be a popular hot dog or hamburger stand that has a signature item on the menu.  It could be an ice cream parlor or a family restaurant that has become a popular eating place for generations.  Send in your ideas and comments about a favorite eating spot and it just might get added to our growing “Hoosier Must Eats” list.

Here are a few examples to get you going.

Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island Wiener Stand

Fort Wayne's Famous Coney Island photo

[Source:  Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island Facebook page]

Located at 131 West Main Street in Fort Wayne, the Coney Island Wiener Stand has been serving since 1914.  The hot dogs are grilled, served on a steamed bun, and topped with grilled onions, mustard, and chili.  The Sterns list this establishment in their most recent book 500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009).

The Cavalier Inn, Hammond

The Cavalier Inn[Source:  The Cavalier Inn]

Opened in 1949, the Cavalier Inn, known simply as “The Cav” by those who frequent the establishment, offers a wide variety of food including lake perch, burgers, meatloaf, and a Friday night fish fry.  It also specializes in Polish food such as pierogis, potato pancakes, stuffed cabbage (golabki), czarnina (duck blood soup).   The late Walter (“Wally”) Kasprzcki Sr. opened this restaurant to serve the growing number of Polish immigrants in the community, many of whom he sponsored and helped to become American citizens.  Wally’s son continues to operate the restaurant, an neighborhood and Polish community gathering spot, which is located at 735 Goslin Street in Hammond.  More information can be obtained at www.cavalierinn.net.

Wolf’s Bar-B-Q Restaurant, Evansville

Wolf's Bar-B-Q[Source:  Wolf’s Bar-B-Q Restaurant website]

When you ask for a popular eatery in Evansville, most everyone mentions Wolf’s Bar-B-Q.   Serving since 1925, Wolf’s has a long tradition of serving up some of the best barbecued meats that one can find.  Begun as a wholesale meat distributor specializing in barbecue, Wolf’s distributed meats to groceries and taverns throughout the adjacent states.  Sons of the founder opened the first Wolf’s Bar-B-Q Restaurant in 1952, which has been expanded over the years to accommodate nearly 400 people.  The restaurant is located at 6600 N. First Avenue in Evansville.  More information may be found at www.wolfbarbq.com.

Mug-n-Bun, Indianapolis

Mug n Bun[Source:  Mug-n-Bun website]

The Mug-n-Bun Drive-In Restaurant has been a staple of Indianapolis’ Westside since 1960.  They specialize in pork tenderloins, hamburgers, hand-dipped onion rings, Coney dogs, and homemade root beer in frosty mugs.  The spot continues the tradition of dining in one’s car — blink your lights for service and a car hop will take your order and deliver it on trays to hang on the window.  The restaurant is located at 5211 W. 10th Street in Indianapolis.  For more information, see:  http://mug-n-bun.com/.

[Written by David G. Vanderstel]

Posted In: Featured Article

One response to “Hoosier Must Eats”

  1. What a fantastic post!

    You have to include Nick’s Kitchen on this list. Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington, Indiana (easy drive off I-69) is supposedly the place that invented the Hoosier traditional breaded tenderloin.

    I moved to Indianapolis about 4 years ago and I had never had a breaded tenderloin. Fortunately, Nick’s was my first. I have probably had better, but there is nothing greater than experiencing a food at the place it was invented, especially if that place hasn’t, seemingly, changed at all since it’s introduction.

    Roadfood : http://www.roadfood.com/Reviews/Overview.aspx?RefID=1398

    I also love the idea of keeping a list like this. I recently made a list of my favorite places in Indy and I plan to work on even more ‘lists’. Here are my favorites for your dining pleasure. 🙂

    Blog – http://bit.ly/PTV-IndyRestaurants (blog.philthevoid.net)
    List – http://bit.ly/PTVB-Favorites

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