We had one final evening left in Bloomington before moving on to the next leg of our journey. It’s a major university town so there are a lot of restaurants in the downtown area. But they aren’t generally the sort of roadfood-type places I look for when traveling. So I sometimes have a difficult time deciding where to eat when we’re there. Thankfully, we were with a close friend who lives in Bloomington and she picked what turned out to be one of the better Irish pubs I’ve been to; The Irish Lion. It’s been around for nearly 40 years, but the building that holds it was built during the late 19th century and has been the site of various taverns and billiard establishments for much of its long existence. I don’t have any photos of the interior, but trust me when I say it’s nicer than the average pub.
The three of us shared an Irish Lion specialty to start. Blarney Puffballs are fried cheese and garlic laced mashed potato balls.
For entrees, my wife and our friend shared Shepherd’s Pie, while I had tender and tasty lamb loin chops with roasted potatoes and carrots.
After dinner, we walked to the Chocolate Moose, a Bloomington institution that’s been modernized from a classic-looking ice cream stand to something far less charming. Although I appreciate the fact that having indoor seating is good for an ice cream business in an area that can have cold winters.
We were joined there by our friend’s husband and children. It’s tough to say who was more excited about the ice cream between the kids and me. When I saw that The Chocolate Moose had a flavor called Lemon Custard, I knew it was me. You don’t see lemon ice cream as often as sorbet. I had some during a 2016 Denver vacation that had me in a state of frozen bliss. Since then, on the rare occasions when I have seen lemon ice cream on a flavor list, I go for it. Unfortunately, this version was nowhere near what I had in Denver. In fact, none that I’ve had since then has been.
Another visit to Bloomington was in the books. It was time for us to start driving east, in the direction of home. Of course, there would be food stops, as well as a more extended layover to visit with our friends in Pittsburgh.
As we headed to a planned late morning meal destination, we drove past a notable roadfood landmark; the Gnaw Mart, in Gnaw Bone, Indiana. This combination gas station, convenience store and very casual restaurant is genuinely famous for its breaded pork tenderloin. Devotees of that sandwich travel from far and wide to taste it, something I did while on one of my first trips to Indiana with my wife, 12-15 years ago. We haven’t eaten there since, but it’s along a rural stretch of Indiana Route 46 that we always seem to take at some point while in that area. I like to stop to photograph it and check out how they are doing. They’ve closed down probably multiple times over the years, only to reopen with a slightly different name. I can’t remember exactly what it was called when we ate there. It wasn’t open the next time we drove by, but has been, albeit not always with the same name, every time since then.
Our early lunch destination was Storie’s Restaurant in Greensburg, Indiana, which has a fairly classic downtown with a look out of the early to mid twentieth century. Storie’s opened in 1977, but has unfortunately closed since we were there.
There was construction taking place outside of the restaurant that took away from the nice, late-morning, small town vibe. They were packed when we walked in, but we managed to get a booth in the back, next to the short order counter.
One of the main reasons I chose to stop at Stories was that they were known to have good pie.
Although they were still serving breakfast, we both ordered lunch. My wife went with one of the day’s specials, baked ham, and chose candied yams and very creamy coleslaw on the side. I ordered a cheeseburger and had at least moderately high hopes that it would be a good one. What can I say? I don’t always get it right. I am pretty sure it was a frozen patty, and it was overcooked, like frozen patties almost always are. I should have ordered breakfast, as I usually do at a diner or small town coffee shop like Storie’s unless I read something positive about one of their lunch items online.
The meal wasn’t a total loss. The meringue-topped banana-cream pie that I ordered was very good.
As we left Storie’s, we spotted the landmark Greensburg is best known for; the tree that grows out of the top of the Decatur County Courthouse. A series of them has sprouted up there since the 1870s. Every time one has died, a new one sprouts in place of it.
We made it to Pittsburgh late and grabbed something near our hotel for dinner after stopping to greet our friends.
The following morning, we linked back up with them at Ritter’s Diner. They’ve been around since 1951, although their current building – known as a Mediterranean Modern in diner lingo – arrived later and is across the street from the original location. While it may not be quite the picture of a diner that the Summit is, Ritter’s has its own very appealing charm, both outside and in.
I had eaten there once before with the same friend, Andy, who loves the place, but I still played it safe and ordered a simple breakfast sandwich after my burger experience at Storie’s.
Ritter’s offers a selection of pie flavors, and you know I wasn’t leaving without trying a couple flavors. I really should have though. It would be a stretch to call both the chocolate cream and apple slices I ordered mediocre. They tasted like they had been sitting in the case way too long, although I have serious doubts that I would have rated them highly even if they were freshly made.
We hung out with our friends until it was time to eat again. Our first dinner of the trip was at Ding Ho, Columbus’ oldest Chinese restaurant. The final one of the vacation would also feature Chinese food, this time at Me Lyng of West Homestead, PA, which is just across the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh. Andy and his wife had eaten there before and knew it was well-tailored to my love of Americanized, Cantonese-style food.
We were also there because I had seen their online menu and knew that they offer paper-wrapped chicken. It was called “foil-wrapped chicken” in the Philly region when I was younger, and it was a favorite appetizer of mine, especially during the 80s. But it’s virtually impossible to find now in my home region. I also didn’t need to hold back on ordering a PuPu Platter, as I did in Columbus. We were a party of five with Andy, his wife and my boyhood friend Paul, who also lives in the Pittsburgh area.
There were also lo mein and one of my old stand-bys, Shrimp with Lobster Sauce, a dish that I’ve been eating nearly as long as Sweet & Sour Pork. There is no lobster in Shrimp with Lobster Sauce. But it’s so good that I am not going to quibble over misleading naming.
We said our good-bys as we left Me Lyng. My wife and I were heading home in the morning. That usually would mean breakfast at the Summit Diner. But while I can’t get enough of the place, my wife felt like trying somewhere different. And I’m always happy to put in a little online research to come up with an alternate breakfast stop.
Brady’s Restaurant of Acme, PA, is near the Donegal exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which is just about 45 minutes east of Pittsburgh. It doesn’t have the classic looks or charm of an old diner, but my breakfast sandwich – Yes; I played it safe again – was a good one. And I was excited to see they had a pie case. But my meringue-topped coconut cream was fairly mediocre, which is to say much better than the pie at Ritter’s, but not nearly as good as what is served at Gray Bros. or Storie’s.
At about the mid-way point of this vacation, it seemed destined to be the best food trip I’ve ever taken. I’ll always remember it very fondly for those four stand-out items I ate – the peach and butterscotch pie slices at the Summit Diner and Gray Bros., the corned beef sandwich at Shapiro’s, and the fried chicken in Henderson.
The second half of the trip didn’t go quite as smoothly, but I still would rate it as one of my two best vacations for food; the other being one we took through the near South and Midwest in 2015. I’ve still got the photos for that trip and will probably post a report on it at some point.