story by JULIE CAMPBELL
Whether you call it culinary tourism or destination dining, the ritual of traveling to discover great food is one of the hottest reasons to road trip. Plan a weekend adventure and roam the back roads and tiny towns of Indiana in search of your next favorite meal!
Chef Matt Harakal’s earliest memories of being in the kitchen include a little bit of mischief. “I would grab things out of the pantry and try to cook them and imitate what I saw my relatives doing,” he recalled. “It didn’t really turn out and I usually got in trouble.”
After three decades as a professional chef, however, Harakal’s cooking now gets rave reviews by his loyal customers. His restaurant, 21 North Eatery & Cellar on the square in downtown Martinsville, has become a destination for foodies in search of their next favorite meal, highlighting the restaurant’s excellent selection of fresh ingredients from local farmers and fine wines from regional purveyors in France, Italy, and Spain.
The latest feature at the restaurant, The Chef’s Table, is an outlet for Harakal and his executive chef, Steve Martinez, to showcase their creativity as their guests get a behind-the- scenes experience at the restaurant. The intimate room, which has its own bar separate from the main restaurant, recreates the ambience of a speakeasy.
“When I took over as the owner, I wanted to have something more personable where the chefs were cooking right in front of everyone— where you’re not in a crowded restaurant, where you can just have a private room to yourself,” he explained. “We tailor make everything right there. It’s a great interaction between us and our customers, our friends.”
While some dining destinations aren’t as roomy or as easy to find as 21 North, that doesn’t deter hungry travelers. Take Bonge’s Tavern, for example, in Madison County. The legendary food has been luring diners out to the “middle of nowhere” for a quarter of a century. Dishes like the Perkinsville Pork or Harger Duck are favorites from the restaurant’s iconic, but compact, menu.
Speaking of traditions, Triple XXX Family Restaurant in West Lafayette holds the title of “Indiana’s First and Oldest Drive-In.” Its most popular item, The Duane Purvis All American, a quarter-pound ground sirloin patty topped with creamy peanut butter, American cheese, and all the fixings, has been featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. “We believe we’re the first restaurant with a peanut butter burger, dating back to 1934 after Duane Purvis was a student at Purdue,” said Carrie Ehresman, who has owned the restaurant with her husband, Greg, since 1999. And in case you’re wondering, Triple XXX is the root beer brand served at the restaurant—one of the oldest brands in the United States.
Another Diners, Drive-ins and Dives alumnus is Zydeco’s in Mooresville. As the name suggests, this restaurant is all about New Orleans, from the décor to the dishes. Customers come for the authentic Cajun fare, from jambalaya and gumbo to crawfish etouffee and alligator, and they leave with a little more spice in their lives.
In the tiny town of Fairmount, Grains & Grill offers travelers a fine dining experience just off Indiana State Road 9. In 2015, owners Joanie and Barry Howard converted the former John Deere dealership into a charming restaurant. The business has also expanded in recent years to include a popular pizzeria and brewery, Bad Dad Brewery, located on the same property.
Up the road in Roanoke, you’ll find Joseph Decuis, a true farm-to-fork restaurant. The owners believe in the farm-to-fork experience so much, they established their own farm, where they raise legendary Japanese beef— Waygu—as well as free range hens, Mangalitza pigs, goats, sheep, turkeys, herbs, and vegetables.
For another excellent farm-to-fork experience, try The Farmhouse Restaurant at Fair Oaks Farms, which features fresh ingredients grown and harvested at Fair Oaks Farms and other farms within the region. Bring the kids and experience all the farm activities Fair Oaks Farms has to offer while you’re there.
In the mood for small plates in a beautiful, artsy setting? Head to Wabash’s 4 Partners in Crime, where both the food and the walls feature an artistic flair. And while you’re in town, check out Moon Dog, a hip cocktail bar and restaurant offering a fresh, eclectic menu.
For a unique dining experience in downtown Muncie, make a reservation at Ron Lahody’s Trust Your Butcher Steakhouse. Eclectic décor mixes with some of the best fresh-cut steaks around. Their two-pound, bone-in tomahawk ribeye is a must-try for true carnivores.
Fort Wayne’s food scene is a hidden gem, where diners and hot dog stands mix with up-and-coming cocktail desti- nations. It’s here that culinary creatives redefine Midwestern cuisine, combining generations-old recipes with the flavors of the world. Their annual restaurant week, Savor Fort Wayne (January 17-28) of- fers the perfect time to come explore.
Arni’s has been serving fresh and delicious food for over half a century. The family-owned restaurant has 17 locations in Indiana, and serves their famous thin crust pizza, salads, subs, sandwiches and more. The Arni’s experience is a true Indiana restaurant tradition.
In Wayne County, the Old Richmond Inn is located in an 1892 historic home and has been offering a fine dining experience for more than 26 years. And in historic Cambridge City, you’ll find Lumpy’s Cafe, famous for its enormous, fresh, homemade tenderloin sandwiches.
If your in the mood for family-friendly entertainment along with a buffet-style dinner, Abbeydell Hall fits the bill. This year-round theatre presents Branson, Missouri-style shows and sits on a beautiful French Lick estate, formerly known as the home of basketball legend Larry Bird.
While your in town, check out two iconic fine dining options on the French Lick Resort properties: 1875: The Steakhouse at French Lick Springs Hotel and Sinclair’s, located at West Baden Springs Hotel. The ambience, service, and food are fitting of a world class resort experience.
Brown County’s Story Inn thrives as a destination hotel and restaurant and hosts a variety of special events. They host a candlelit dinner each Friday and Saturday in December preceding Christmas. Enjoy an unforgettable Victorian-themed dinner, and an evening of live music, with staff dressed in period garb.
Love the outdoors? Located at the Creekside Trails trailhead just two miles from downtown Valparaiso is Trailyard, where hungry hikers can find a wide variety of food and drinks.
If you’re craving a good, old-fashioned, Amish-style breakfast or lunch, try the Corn Crib Cafe off Indiana State Road 5 in Shipshewana. The cafe features locally sourced meats and their own homemade breads in many of the delicious menu selections.
And don’t forget to stop by one of two Amish country favorites for dinner: The Blue Gate Restaurant and Bakery in Shipshewana and Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury. You won’t leave hungry at either of these two well-loved Amish restaurants!
Foodies are celebrating the much- anticipated opening of Union Hall, an American fare restaurant located in the historic American Factory in downtown Valparaiso. The restaurant is part of Journeyman Distillery’s new location which also features Sea of Monsters brewery, retail area, and timeless event spaces.
One of the best ways to plan your culinary adventure is to check out Indiana Foodways Alliance food trails. This non-profit organization supports locally-owned restaurants throughout the state, and promotes 21 trails. Popular are the Hoosier Pie Trail, Tenderloin Lovers Trail, and the Sweet Temptations Trail.