Wine advice from Spring Dinner Series sommelier Ashlee Nemeth

Wine advice from Spring Dinner Series sommelier Ashlee Nemeth

It’s time for the Culinary Crossroads Spring Dinner Series, four weeks of collaborative chef dinners that run April 8-29 at Highland Golf & Country Club, and once again sommelier Ashlee Nemeth of Tinker Street restaurant in Indianapolis will be choosing the wine pairings. This will be Ashlee’s third year handling the wine selections, and guests look forward to her unique wine finds. She and her Italian boyfriend also own a business called The Best of Umbria, importing regional delicacies such as lentils, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil and cherry and apricot marmellata. The products are sold at specialty food shops such as Nicole-Taylor’s Pasta and Market, Cork + Cracker, Goose the Market and Angelo’s Italian Market.

Any advice for the home connoisseur in pairing wines during the warmer months?

Acid with acid. For example, a pinot noir and tomatoes, something that may have a little bit of vinegar in it. Albariño, Godello, vermentino with white flaky fishes. Sparkling white wine or rosé by itself or with fruit, oysters, fried foods such as french fries and fried chicken. Chardonnay with creamy, rich sauces.

What is your favorite grape varietal and why?

Zinfandel and syrah. I love wine with richness, complexity, full body and tannin. I love a Cahors malbec, too, because it has that funky, earthy, barnyard note known as Brettanomyces.

What made you want to become a sommelier?

I studied abroad in Italy for my degree in nutrition and dietetics at Indiana State University. There we studied food, wine, gastronomy and art history. I then went back to Italy by myself two years later. It just made my love for wine blossom, and I wanted to study it further.

What wines do you drink at home?

I drink Cava and Cava brut rosé, a sparkling wine from Spain, chardonnay, chenin blanc, tempranillo and sagrantino (my favorite Italian grape). Heck, I drink them all. I am not particular about malbec from Argentina; I don’t really like pinot grigio.

What items are always in your fridge?

Sparkling wine, Aperol to make a spritz and chilled white wines, usually two different kinds. For food, tomatoes, chicken for lunch, parmigiano and pecorino cheeses, prosciutto, eggs, Pellegrino sparkling water and still spring water.

Diverse flavors and a taste of nostalgia in Lafayette and West Lafayette

Diverse flavors and a taste of nostalgia in Lafayette and West Lafayette

Founded in 1825, Lafayette, Ind., and the neighboring community of West Lafayette, situated across the Wabash River and home to Purdue University and Cook Biotech, stand as an educational and pharmaceutical hub. In other words, it’s an area where various cultures and ethnicities converge, quilting a vibrant and diverse community. 

With its farming heritage and that rich diversity, Lafayette and West Lafayette provide gastronomic sampling like few other Midwestern cities. From gluten-free bakeries and French wine bars to nostalgic drive-ins, the global scope of the scientific and educational arenas brings myriad dining opportunities for residents and travelers. After all, one cannot live on knowledge alone. 

The morning repast can begin with scrumptious gluten-free pastries and shopping for sustainable goods at the charming Rose Market along Main Street. Located in Lafayette, with an in-house baker crafting wheat and dairy-free goods and rows of allergy-free products, customers will walk in for a dozen donuts and leave with a cartload of groceries. As soon as the door opens, visitors take in the aroma of sweets, and cases full of donuts, tarts, pies and cakes offer a feast for the eyes. Shoppers can peruse the aisles for hard-to-find alternative flours, puff pastry, a variety of pasta shapes and, of course, baking products. 

For a nostalgic taste of Indiana, head to West Lafayette’s Triple XXX Family Restaurant, which opened in 1929. The Triple XXX brand root beer and the famous Duane Purvis peanut butter-topped burger, featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” are worth the wait to sit at the winding counter, but the root beer started it all in 1895. By the 1920s, the root beer chain grew to nearly 100 Triple XXX “thirst stations,” and today, this is the last remaining and oldest drive-in in the state. 

If you’re in the mood for something less crowded, Lafayette’s East End Grill, which opened in 2016, provides a modern, relaxed atmosphere. It’s the perfect choice for a local meeting, date or even a place to hang out and watch the NCAA tournament. The menu, overseen by chef de cuisine Haley Garrity, spotlights local farms and serves roasted and grilled meats, seafood and vegetarian specialties.

Head directly across the street for a coffee or a glass of Burgundy at French-inspired Cellar Wine Bistro. Serving over 100 wines by the glass, it’s an opportunity to discover new favorite varietals. Enjoy one of the wine flights, which offer three 3-ounce pours, and find a new bottle to take on a picnic or a home to sip on your porch. It’s the perfect place to take stock of your quick tour through the art galleries, independent retail outlets and the captivating walk along Main Street. 

In Lafayette and West Lafayette, every meal is an opportunity to savor the flavors of the new heartland, so come hungry, leave fortified and prepare to fall in love with eating and drinking delights in this charming Midwestern enclave. 

Discovering food history and delicious dining in Terre Haute

Discovering food history and delicious dining in Terre Haute

When it comes to culinary destinations, Terre Haute might not come to mind. But when considering great food locations, this city of more than 60,0000 has a surprising history. Once known as  Sin City for its bordellos, casinos and a “red-light district” catering to Chicago gangsters, it now offers a variety of cultural tastes and experiences in part because of the four colleges situated in and around the city. Indiana State University, Ivy Tech Community College, Rose Hulman Institute of Technology and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods draw students and educators from around the world.  

Regarding its food history, Clabber Girl Baking Powder was launched in the 1800s when the local wholesale grocer Hulman & Company (later of Indianapolis Motor Speedway fame) began manufacturing the leavening agent. In 1916, the Terre Haute-based Root Glass Company developed the iconic Coca-Cola bottle. According to the legendary beverage website, the team derived the initial design from an illustrated cocoa bean with its long shape and rib-like indentations. Driving through the area today, a giant billboard displays the Clabber Girl logo, and Coca-Cola references abounds as testament to the local importance of these American icons. 
Terre Haute visitors can indulge in Hoosier food at local mom-and-pop restaurants, such as Park Avenue Diner, which claims to have the largest pork tenderloin sandwich in the area, or head over to the 187-year-old Terre Haute Brewing Company (THBC) for a local beer and a bite. The brewery’s restaurant, Honey’s, provides bar food, such as wings, burgers and tacos, to accompany the house-brewed pints. 

Several musts for the visiting eater include the 80-year-old Saratoga Terre Haute, which serves American and Mediterranean-inspired dishes, the Wine Spectator award-winning J. Ford’s Black Angus for steaks and seafood, and lunch (or brunch) at the chef-driven Federal Coffee + Fine Foods, where roasted beans come from Valparaiso-based Yaggy Road Roasting Company. 

Meanwhile, Mexican eateries like the newly opened Mis Tres Potrillos offer Guadalajara street tacos, enchiladas and 13 varieties of margaritas with bold and vibrant flavors. Last year, an Indian-Nepalese restaurant, The Kasthamandap Grill, a favorite of the city’s new and youngest elected mayor, 28-year-old Brandon Sakbun, opened in a former Asian restaurant. Serving buffet-style, it offers genuinely delicious goat curries, butter chicken and various naans, to mention only a few dishes.  

Beyond its brick-and-mortar eateries, Terre Haute hosts various food-related events and festivals throughout the year. For example, the third annual Haute Hops & Vines Festival is coming up, featuring 100-plus wines, breweries, and spirits from Hoosier and regional makers. Another is the outdoor Wine on The Wabash, a two-night festival of food, music, and area wineries in Fairbanks Park. And, of course, the yearly Vigo County Fair, with corn dogs, a ribeye stand and the omnipresent pork tenderloin. And the Truckstop, Indiana’s first food truck park, opens for the season on April 8 in the historic 12 Points District.

Terre Haute may have yet to be thought of for dining, but its growth as a thriving food landscape reflects the changing demographics of the 21st century Midwest.

Cooking is who I am, says Southern Indiana chef Roza Segoviano

Cooking is who I am, says Southern Indiana chef Roza Segoviano

One of the most prominent executive chefs in Southern Indiana, Rozalind “Roza” Segoviano owns six restaurants with her Mexican-born husband, Juan. Together, they oversee a growing regional restaurant empire, Viva Hospitality Group, that includes Sleepy Rooster Kitchen and other Mexican establishments in Southern Indiana and Louisville, including La Catrina, Senor Iguanas, El Catrin and Don Juan Taqueria. Roza’s dedication to providing tasty Latin American food resonates through the dishes she creates and the community endeavors she spearheads.

What made you want to become a chef? 

Growing up, I was blessed to have a mother and grandmother who prepared home-cooked food. My first job was at a local pizzeria run by an Italian family. By the time I was sixteen, they had tasked me with running the weekend buffet. I had my kitchen with a separate dining room for the buffet. I was so proud to be responsible for all of that. The buffet was popular with local sports leagues, private parties and events. I remember peeking into the dining room, seeing people celebrate and enjoying the food I prepared. Then I realized food’s vital role in our memories, and I was hooked. I knew I wanted to cook for others for the rest of my life. Cooking isn’t just what I do; it’s who I am. 

What is your favorite type of food and why? 

Spicy food! Soul-stirring heat. The hotter the better. Mexican cuisine is my passion, but I also enjoy Thai, Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian foods. 

Where do you get your inspiration?

Inspiration can come from a lot of places. I primarily draw from my travels, seeing how locals eat and cook with their native ingredients. Anyone who aspires to be a chef should travel as much as possible and taste everything! 

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

The Yucatan in Mexico, where the ancient Mayan culture and food traditions are alive and well. My absolute favorite thing to eat there is Tikin Xic. It’s a whole snapper butterflied and rubbed with achiote and sour orange adobo, then grilled over an open fire, often right on the beach. It’s a meal served with pickled onions and fiery habanero salsa and best enjoyed under a palapa by the ocean waves, perfect for sharing with loved ones. 

What items are always in your fridge? 

Eggs. They are so versatile and nutrient rich. We eat eggs at all hours at my house. There are endless ways to prepare eggs. I also always have tomatillos and serrano peppers. 

If you could choose a favorite place in Indiana to visit, where would that be located and what would you eat? 

We like spending time in Indianapolis. I adore a good brunch but haven’t made it to Milktooth yet. I will indeed have a Dutch Baby because there aren’t too many restaurants that serve them.

Find plenty of food, music and outdoor fun in Plainfield

Find plenty of food, music and outdoor fun in Plainfield

Situated about 15 minutes west of the Indianapolis International Airport, the Hendricks County town of Plainfield is sure to see more visitors than usual this year as a newly expanded water park makes a splash and a 600-seat entertainment center opens its doors. And there are enough delicious dining options to keep all those visitors coming back. 

Spanning nearly 4.5 acres, Plainfield’s family-friendly Splash Island was already one of Central Indiana’s most popular destinations. But the Caribbean-themed outdoor waterpark, open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, recently received an almost $8.5 million upgrade to create new attractions and improve the experience. The expansion offers guests three new waterslides (in addition to the three current ones), a new splash pad and private spaces, including new tiki hut cabana rentals. And don’t forget the 900-foot lazy river. As for food, the park’s outdoor SnacKabana will include a limited menu of grab-and-go items; coolers with outside food are allowed as well. 

If you get hungry for nostalgia, head over to West Main Street in Plainfield to the Oasis Diner. You can sit at the counter or in a booth in the original 1954 diner and enjoy classic breakfast fare as well as burgers, fries, shakes, pies and Indiana’s iconic breaded pork tenderloin. In fact, road food enthusiasts will find one of USA Today’s Top 10 tenderloin sandwiches, which the publication calls “well-seasoned and fried to perfection.” 

The stylish Theo’s Italian, located in the outdoor and walkable Shops at Perry Crossing, is a new Cunningham Restaurant Group eatery that features pinsa, a specific type of oval-shaped pizza. Opened in October 2023, the sexy space feels especially suited for casual dates and couples, with pastas and flatbreads to please everyone. 

Over at The Prewitt Restaurant + Lounge, a glamorous refurbished 1920s movie theater, the menu features new American fare and steaks. Specialties include wagyu corn dogs, BBQ chicken flatbread, a short rib bowl, king salmon and vegetarian pasta. 

Any of the above options can provide a great dinner before experiencing the area’s new Hendricks Live!, a 600-seat performing arts space that will open March 9. City officials hope the new facility, part of the Plainfield Civic Center, will become West Central Indiana’s premier art and entertainment space with year-round experiences for every age.

If you go: Be sure to check out Visit Hendricks County for more info on Plainfield-area restaurants and attractions.