Connersville charms with Midwestern food and classic cars

Aug 30, 2023 | Blog, News

By Brian Garrido

Connersville, one of the oldest cities in Indiana, serves up small-town charm with a big taste of diverse Midwestern eating – with a side of automobile history. Taquerias dish out tacos, burritos and enchiladas, pizza shops offer delicious pies and pasta, and mornings aren’t complete without a stop at Stacks, famed for their chocolate chip pecan pancakes and the Kentucky Benedict, two poached eggs, house-made biscuit and sausage patties and creamy gravy. Yet, it’s Kunkel’s Drive-In Restaurant, built in 1954, that helps to chronicle the area’s longtime connection with food and cars.

It’s hard to miss the burger joint’s sign beckoning with undulating letters of blue and yellow. Patrons park under one of two angled canopies that flank a mid-century flat-topped restaurant. And, using one of the classic individual speakers, customers can order the double-decker Kunkel Super Burger or a Hoosier pork tenderloin, breaded or grilled. Make it a basket with fries or hand-floured onion rings.

The eatery harkens back to Connersville’s role in early automobile manufacturing, earning it the nickname “Little Detroit.” At one time, the city played an enormous role in the burgeoning American auto industry, starting in 1909, when the incredibly luxurious McFarlan first went into production. The “American Rolls-Royce” shone with 24-carat gold trim and has long been considered the most expensive auto made at the time, with a price tag of $25,000 (adjusted for inflation, closer to $500K today). In 1910, Lexington Motor Company moved from Kentucky, followed by Empire, with its Little Aristocrat. Additional manufacturers moved to the area throughout the roaring twenties, which included the Auburn, Ansted and Duesenberg makers and engine builders McQuay-Norris. And according to the Indiana Historical Society, Connersville’s Central Manufacturing produced 500,000 Jeep bodies during World War II.

Today, car enthusiasts gather between slurps of milkshakes and vanilla Cokes every other weekend to show off their four-wheeled treasures – be sure to check out Kunkel’s Instagram page. The restaurant hosts Kunkel’s Cruise-In annually, serving up nostalgia and gaining awards for their food. Visitors can savor traditional sandwiches while collectors show off their souped-up Mustangs, polished chrome Model T’s or 1969 VW vans with judges awarding the Carhop Choice Trophy.

With traditional American dishes, international flavors or classic cuisine, Connersville provides some tasty eats along with the automotive history. Whatever’s on the menu, you’ll drive away happier than when you arrived.