Enjoy ice cream, onion rings, history and more in Shelbyville

Enjoy ice cream, onion rings, history and more in Shelbyville

Shelbyville, known more for pristine farmland than as a food destination, offers delicious surprises while providing a healthy dose of Hoosier history. Situated where the Big Blue and Little Blue rivers converged, the town has the distinction of being the one-time home to Indiana’s first railroad transporting passengers and goods to Indianapolis, 30 miles northwest.

The downtown serves as the cultural and culinary center of the city with restaurants, shops, annual festivals and the location of the area’s farmers’ market. A picturesque elliptical-shaped city center, redeveloped in 2022, allows locals and visitors to hobnob together while enjoying the walkable destination.

The Cow Palace, a dining institution for residents and the curious traveler for 40 years, can’t be missed. The charming barn-shaped signage alone beckons, and a menu of sundaes, sandwiches and breakfasts doesn’t disappoint. Indeed, the ice cream concoctions are meals unto themselves. It’s also the former site of the home of 19th century author Charles Major. Born in Indianapolis, Major relocated to Shelbyville, and many of Major’s novels were set in this community, including the notable Bears of Blue River. Head over to the Joseph Fountain, a 1923 refurbished landmark, and view the sweet bronze statue that features the book’s protagonist, Little Balser, and his two pet bears.  

If you didn’t gorge on dairy at Cow Palace, perhaps Just Peachy Cafe, opened by Charity Elliot in 2019, provides a tasty stop. Exposed brick walls, Americana and a 1950s bike decorate the space but the menu features plenty of sandwiches, soups and homemade pastries, cakes and desserts. A Purdue graduate, Elliot features a sophisticated take on restaurant stalwarts such as the vegan burger on flatbread or the grilled cheese your way with combinations of feta, provolone, roasted red peppers. Diners can even find gluten-free bread and brownies baked on premise. 

Not to be missed though may be Pudder’s, a family-owned bar and restaurant that features live entertainment on the weekends, and upstairs, Blessing’s Opera House, a special event venue which has been at 18 Public Square since 1869. The unassuming restaurant, purchased by Bryan and Kim Rice in 2022 and named after a previous owner’s grandkids, offers tin-clad ceilings and an expansive dining area in a three-story cast iron historic building. While the menu features straightforward bar fare, there are surprises such as a bacon jam burger, mozzarella sticks, hand-cut from a “big cheese block” and revelatory onion rings. (“We dip them three times,” says Bryan Rice, “first in the wet, then the dry and back to the wet.”)

The second floor features the historic Blessing’s Opera House. By appointment,  peruse the antique exposed brick walls, with some of the original 19th century plaster and murals.

Other notable Shelbyville stops include the Grover Center Museum & Historical Society, which celebrates the county’s history, and the Skyline Drive-in movie theater, which shows current films and offers an extensive concession stand menu. Just outside of town on I-74, the Horseshoe Casino offers plenty of gaming, dining and live thoroughbred and quarter horse racing.

Greencastle offers regional charm and diverse dining

Greencastle offers regional charm and diverse dining

Greencastle, a quaint town in Putnam County with a population of just under 10,000 and home to DePauw University, is a hidden gem for food enthusiasts. Its dining scene is a delightful blend of regional charm and diverse culinary experiences. While students might opt for the convenience of fast food chains, the town’s alumni, professors and locals are drawn to the unique flavors of its independent eateries. 

Chef Sal Fernandez, a recent James Beard semi-finalist who cooked under notable chef Brandon McGlamery (Bay Area’s The French Laundry, Delfina and Chez Panisse), oversees the cuisine at Bridges Craft Pizza & Wine Bar, a sophisticated pie and vine experience. Located in a beautifully restored historic building, the restaurant offers wood-fired artisan crusts with a blend of toppings. From classic Margherita to creative creations like the BBQ chicken with rhubarb and pickled ramps, the menu caters to various tastes, including pasta and meat lovers. Additionally, oenophiles will surely be pleased as they peruse the impressive wine list from domestic and international vineyards.

BreadWorks by Bridges, another standout in Greencastle’s food scene (and also from the Bridges group), offers a richly textured and surprising European experience in America’s heartland. The artisanal bakery and café bakes fresh goods in a French-inspired space with an amusing art piece of dangling rolling pins in the foyer. Bread made daily ranges from rustic sourdoughs to hearty whole grains, along with a mighty American pastry selection like Danishes, apple fritters, muffins and a doughnuts ranging from glazed to long Johns. BreadWorks also offers a range of sandwiches, soups and salads. A second location can be found in Indy’s South Broad Ripple area and offers a selection of breakfast bowls, burritos and sweet confections. 

Greencastle boasts other dining options that provide a more Midwest eating approach. At the 30-plus-year-old Almost Home, located in the square, owner Gail Smith and her chefs serve up delicious American fare with an international flavor twist. Not to be missed are the house-made potato chips smothered in gorgonzola, buffalo hot sauce and scallions and the Putnam County pork burger featuring locally sourced meat. 

Whiskey lovers Tosh and Joel Everson opened The Whisk in 2021 and serve more than 200 bourbons from around the world, including some distilled locally. Head over to its IG page, where Tosh recites the specials and discusses the featured whiskey along with its $5 pours. The Whisk also offers small plates, weekend brunch and Friday night dinner specials. 

The dining scene in Greencastle is rich with character and flavor, with a warm community spirit that helps define the city’s approach to dining. 

Pandemic pizza hobby became Indy’s popular Sam’s Square Pie

Pandemic pizza hobby became Indy’s popular Sam’s Square Pie

Former NFL Skycam operator and cameraman Jeffrey Miner began crafting Detroit-style pizza as a hobby during the pandemic and selling them at various pop-ups throughout Indianapolis. Quickly, he amassed a following for Sam’s Square Pie, creating lofty, doughy pies with crisp, browned cheese edges, baked in rectangles and served in squares. 

Even before opening his three-month-old shop on Indy’s eastside, Miner had already won awards at the International Pizza Expo, an annual event in Las Vegas that draws legions of fans and entrepreneurs. In 2023, he came in fifth in the World Pan Division, and in March of this year, just before opening, he baked into second. Today, Sam’s Square Pie is a friends and family affair. His teen son, Miles, assists in the kitchen, chef Karyn Lander (of Purely Joy in Indy) works in the front, and his late brother, DJ Indiana Jones, looks over it all from a painting. 

What made you want to become a chef? 
I decided on becoming a pizzaiola after experimenting with pizza dough during the pandemic. As a child and throughout my life, I used to be able to eat an insane amount of pizza. 

What is your favorite type of food and why?
My favorite type of food is probably Mexican because the ingredients are mostly fresh and full of lots of flavor.

Where do you get your inspiration? 
I get inspired through music, art and culture. Through those, you meet the best people and the source of inspiration.

What is your favorite thing to make for yourself and family?
I like cooking breakfast for my family. It’s the first part of the day, and everyone is fed to begin their day. I like a breakfast casserole topped with avocado, maybe a side of chorizo gravy and fresh biscuits.

If you could eat anywhere in the world, where would that be and what would you have? 
If I could eat anywhere in the world, I’d say Spain with a giant paella full of local fresh ingredients. [Here at home,] I really want to visit Bonge’s Tavern and try one of their famous dishes, plus tailgate in the parking lot!

What items are always in your fridge?
Eggs, oat milk and lots of free space, since I’m rarely home!

Whimsy and history coincide in walkable New Albany

Whimsy and history coincide in walkable New Albany

Culinary Crossroads is heading back to the New Albany area for our third On the Road dinner in Southern Indiana. The May 21 collaborative chef dinner takes place at Huber Winery’s Plantation Hall and features three of Southern Indiana’s top chefs: Logan Hostettler of the 1894 Lodge, Vanessa Felix-Goode of V’s Gourmet to Go and Prosser Career Education Center and Liz Martino of Mesa Kids Cooking School. With that in mind, we thought we’d take another look at New Albany with this piece from 2023.

With a rich history, an array of global dining experiences and many attractions for all ages, the walkable downtown of New Albany offers a great example of ever-evolving small-town America, where history and creativity coincide. The eye-catching Lady Tron restaurant offers the perfect example of this juxtaposition – a delicious experience in an architecturally incongruous location. The pre-fab diner, built in 1957 and situated on a busy downtown corner, began as a burger joint called Little Chef, but owners Summer and Alexa Sieg have created a whimsical sci-fi-themed restaurant that is sure to make visitors smile.

Outside the small building, a lifesize, Jetson-like waitron beckons passersby. Inside, the 10-seat diner is decorated with memorabilia from sci-fi movies and TV shows from the last 60 years. While it might seem museum-like, a sense of fun and whimsy permeates with Darth Vader figurines holding the napkins amid the lava lamps’ glow. The owners will even pop-in DVDs like 2009’s “Monsters vs. Aliens.”

Both Summer and Alexa have backgrounds in the food and hospitality industry. Summer is the chef, while Alexa waits on the customers, serving the fresh-made soups and sandwiches.

The small but varied menu features popular sandwiches with names honoring well-known female science fiction characters. You’ll find the LT for Lady Tron (“Tron: Legacy,” 2010), a hamburger with bacon and a green chile-cheese sauce; the Ripley (“Alien” series, 1979 – 2018), a pulled chicken tossed in a blueberry molasses and topped with sesame slaw; the Jane (an homage to Jane Fonda’s “Barbarella,” 1968), a grilled cheese stuffed with smoked gouda and provolone; the Starbuck (“Battlestar Galactica,” 2004 – 2009 ), a Polish sausage with five-bean soup and a jalapeno corn cake; and the Uhura (Star Trek’s translator and communications officer), crunchy deep fried cod, coated in a creamy garlic and jalapeno slaw. And for dessert, patrons can enjoy sweetened grilled cheeses, the Leia (“Stars Wars, “1977) or the Scully (TV’s “The X-Files,” 1993 – 2002).

It’s fitting that the restaurant provides such a creative take on comfort food, as New Albany is also a hub of the arts in Southern Indiana. Strolling around the area, visitors discover that the area abounds with art galleries and studios showcasing the works of local creators. The Carnegie Center for Art and History stands a block away, highlighting the city’s commitment to freedom of expression and providing exhibitions that celebrate the region’s cultural heritage.

But beyond its restaurants and galleries, New Albany also offers Underground Railroad history. A few blocks from the center, the Town Clock Church provided one of the first stops for those fleeing slavery. Additionally, the train station provided access and passage to those heading further north for safety.
Whether exploring New Albany’s history, culture or restaurants and nightspots, the town leaves an indelible mark, making visitors look forward to the next tasty visit.

Commission Row Chef Corey Fuller on pizza, corned beef and where he’d like to travel

Commission Row Chef Corey Fuller on pizza, corned beef and where he’d like to travel

Native Hoosier chef Corey Fuller began working at 13 in his hometown of Carmel at Ye Olde Library Restaurant, now known as Woody’s. During his senior year of high school, he was the sous chef at the now-closed Villa Inn in downtown Indianapolis. Fuller then headed to Chicago, where he studied at Le Cordon Bleu and then learned and cooked alongside Michelin-starred chefs like Carrie Nahabedian of NAHA and Brindille and Alinea’s Grant Achatz. He also worked for Wolfgang Puck in various US cities and as far away as the United Arab Emirates.

Today, as the executive chef for Cunningham Restaurant Group’s Commission Row at Indy’s Bicentennial Unity Plaza, Fuller’s experience allows him to carefully craft a luxuriously curated menu of steaks, seafood and even a hand-selected caviar list. When not working, Fuller spends quality time with his wife and their son, James, who was diagnosed with the rare Prader-Willi Syndrome. He has become a strong advocate for awareness and fundraising for the Foundation for Prader-Willi Research.

What made you want to become a chef? 

I got a job washing dishes when I was 13. The chefs were the “cook guys” in the restaurant. I was hooked immediately. 

What is your favorite type of food and why?

If I had to pick one, it would be pizza. I’ll travel for it. I  have been all over the country and usually try to find the best place to get a slice while there. 

Where do you get your inspiration? 

I have had a lot of lived experiences, in and out of kitchens, eating at restaurants and seeing what’s out there. I spent time doing research and development for a firm in Chicago, and I saw how to seek and find coming macro and micro trends.

What is your favorite thing to make for yourself and your family? 

We cook very simply at home. My son has a specialized diet, so we keep it balanced and nutritious. 

If you could eat anywhere in the world, where would that be, and what would you eat?  

I would love to go to Seoul, South Korea, and eat everything!

If you could choose a favorite place in Indiana to visit, where would that be and what would you eat? 
Indianapolis is my favorite place in the state. I really love going to Shapiro’s for a big deli corned beef sandwich and potato pancakes. 

What items are always in your fridge?

Asian condiments: fish sauce, gochujang, miso paste, garlic chili paste.