Small-town Indiana restaurant honored with James Beard award

Mar 3, 2023 | Blog

A restaurant in the small Southern Indiana town of Oldenburg got a big surprise recently. When the owner of Wagner’s Village Inn, well known for its fried chicken, began receiving congratulatory phone calls about a very prestigious award, he thought it was a prank.

But Daniel Saccomando, whose grandparents opened the restaurant in 1968, soon realized it was true: The restaurant had been honored with an America’s Classics award from the James Beard Foundation. The awards, say the foundation’s website, are “given to locally owned restaurants that have timeless appeal and are beloved regionally for quality food that reflects the character of its community.”

The town of Oldenburg has a population of about 700 and is known for its German heritage and historic churches, but Wagner’s Village Inn draws diners from around the state who come for the restaurant’s cast-iron skillet fried chicken.

“The elements of the fried chicken at Wagner’s are as unpretentious as the wood-paneled dining room: chicken, salt, pepper, flour, lard. There is no recipe,” reported the James Beard Foundation in announcing the award. “But, as in other southeastern Indiana kitchens, the cooks are heavy-handed with the coarse-ground pepper, adding so much that the chicken could almost be called au poivre.”

That might make Wagner’s chicken sound a bit fancy, but it’s really just an authentic, well-seasoned, down-home dinner, as the James Beard Foundation noted. “The gentle heat of the pepper pairs well with the farmhouse fixings that make up a family-style dinner: coleslaw, green beans, and mashed potatoes with gravy.”

The James Beard Foundation has honored restaurants with America’s Classics awards since 1998. The award is given to a restaurant in each of six regional areas; Indiana is in the Great Lakes region, which also includes Illinois, Ohio and Michigan. St. Elmo Steak House in Indianapolis received an America’s Classics award in 2012.