Discovering food history and delicious dining in Terre Haute

by | Places, Featured Destinations

The Truckstop food truck park in Terre Haute will open for the season in April.

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.

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