If you’ve kept up with this report the past couple days, you may be wondering why we traveled to Indiana so often during this period. In addition to feeding my various cravings, another reason for these repeat trips was to keep close tabs on the young daughter of our Bloomington friends. She was in her toddler years when these vacations took place and it was always a joy to see her.
And so, we hit the turnpike heading west again in 2013. That trip started – as most of them do – at the Summit Diner.
We stuck with basics and had breakfast plates for our early lunch, with mine including the Summit’s wonderful house-made sausage patties.
My pie of choice this time was banana-cream.
We didn’t have firm dinner plans, but while approaching Columbus, Ohio, we noticed a sign advertising a Skyline Chili not far from an upcoming exit. Skyline is Cincinnati based and serves the style of chili that is unique to that region. But they have expanded to other parts of Ohio over the years.
Cincinnati-style chili is nothing like southwestern chili. It tastes something like the Greek, meat-laced sauce used with Coney-Island style hot dogs. Skyline offers it that way and also on top of spaghetti with optional shredded cheese, onions and beans.
My wife had a small order of chili, cheese and onion-topped spaghetti with a salad while I opted for two Coney Island dogs; one of which was topped with cheese. As you can see below, thy did not skimp on the cheese.
In keeping with the Cincinnati theme, while driving from I-70 to Skyline Chili, we passed by a Graeter’s ice cream shop. They are another Cincinnati institution that has a very good reputation among my online roadfood circle. I had never tried their ice cream, so we went there for dessert. My wife had a scoop of mint chocolate-chip, minus the green coloring, while I went for one of Graeter’s trademark flavors; black raspberry-chocolate chip. This is truly super premium ice cream. It’s packaged for sale in supermarkets, but not in the Philly region to the best of my knowledge. Too bad.
The morning after arriving in Bloomington, my wife and I ventured out for brunch to the Village Deli – where she ate many times during her Indiana University days. My pancakes were not near the level of those I had the previous year at Pamela’s in Pittsburgh, but I enjoy anything nostalgic and was happy to go to one of my wife’s old haunts.
Later that afternoon, we stopped at Hinkle’s Hamburgers, which is on the outskirts of town and is a classic old-school burger shop. In fact, I would venture to call it the most genuine roadfood joint in Bloomington. We ate there during our first trip to the region in 2006.
If you have seen the 1979 film, Breaking Away, which was set in Bloomington, you may recall the fault line between the working class people who grew up in and around B-Town and the wealthy students who moved there to attend the university. I had the distinct feeling during our 2006 visit that they rolled out the welcome mat for the townies, but weren’t nuts about the university students. It was packed that day. That was not the case for this return visit. We were there after the lunch rush. It was fairly empty and the guy who seemed to be the manager couldn’t have been nicer.
My double onion-smashed cheeseburger was a mess from an aesthetic standpoint, but it tasted great. I also ordered a slice of their sugar-cream pie – the state pie of Indiana – which I seek out whenever I’m in the Hoosier state. But this version was not very good. The fact that it was cold was part of the problem. I’ve discovered through experience that sugar-cream pie is best at room temperature or a little on the warm side.
The following day, our friend and her daughter joined us at the Monroe County Fair. We saw lots of farm animals, but the highlight – not surprisingly – was lunch. A restaurant called Holt’s Cafe, which specializes in breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches, set up shop at the Fair. I’m not fanatical about those, but they are hugely popular in Indiana; probably more so than burgers. So when in Rome …
The pork tenderloin is pounded flat to the point where its circumference greatly exceeds that of the hamburger bun on which it sits. The toppings tend to be the same that you’d order on a burger. We had fried pickles on the side.
The next day, we took a ride over to Columbus, Indiana, one of the more unique small towns in America. It’s famous for having an abundance of modern architecture and public art.
But our main reason for being there was to check out a place that was as far from modern as one can imagine. Zaharakos must be the most spectacular ice cream parlor I’ve ever visited. It has all the trappings of a vintage turn-of-the-century soda fountain, as well as a dining room, where we ate lunch.
I ordered a Gom Cheese-Brr-Grr, which is a cross between a sloppy Joe and a grilled cheese.
The Gom Cheese-Brr was washed down with a highly problematic vanilla malt. The young man working the soda fountain that day must have accidentally poured way too much vanilla syrup into my malt. I have one of the world’s great sweet tooths, but this was too over-the-top even for me. My wife and her friend had better luck with their sundaes, which arrived with the toppings on the side in nice pouring boats.
Our route back to Bloomington took us past a legendary roadfood joint; the Gnaw Mart. It was and is a mini-mart with a few tables that serves legendary breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches. I tried my first BPT there in 2006, but it was closed when we passed by in 2013. On a positive note, they reopened before very long and are still going strong to the best of my knowledge.
We finished the Bloomington leg of our vacation and headed to Cleveland to visit my wife’s relatives and I believe attend another cousin’s wedding. Along the way, we made a couple stops in northeastern Indiana.
The first was Nick’s Kitchen in the beautiful little town of Huntington. This place’s roots go back to the first decade of the 20th century. They serve what many consider to be the best breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches in Indiana, if not the entire Midwest. But I didn’t have the appetite to handle a BPT at that point and was more concerned with trying their sugar-cream pie, which is also arguably the best in the state. It was certainly the best I’ve ever had.
From Huntington, we continued northeast until reaching Fort Wayne, the former home of the Detroit Pistons and the current home of Powers Hamburgers. The look of Powers is as classic as it gets for a small burger joint.
They are known for onion-fried smashed burgers. While I consider onions – either raw or grilled – to be a necessary topping on hamburgers, I discovered at Powers there is a limit to how many of them I can handle. There are so many grilled strips of onion on a Powers’ burger that you don’t taste much else while eating it. They also gave it an unpleasant texture. I was happy to knock Powers off my bucket list, as it was a place that I had read about and wanted to visit for a number of years, but I was disappointed with the burger.
On our way out of Powers, I spotted a big statue a block or so up the street and walked over to investigate. To my delight, it was a depiction of the young Abraham Lincoln in front of the Lincoln Financial Life Insurance Company.
The day after arriving in Cleveland, we went with my wife’s family to check out the West Side Market, which is that city’s answer to Philly’s Reading Terminal Market.
From there, we moved on to one of Cleveland’s best known restaurants, Sokolowski’s, which unfortunately went out of business within the past year or two. It was a cafeteria that specialized in Polish food. As it was a Friday, they had an abundance of fish available and I opted for fried lake perch with a side of perogies. My wife skipped the fish and went for an entire order of perogies. They also offered Sprecher’s, my favorite brand of root beer, which is hard to find in my area. So I never pass it up when I see it on the road.
The last couple photos I have of this vacation are from the Summit Diner, where we stopped on our way home. It appears to have only been a pie stop, and I opted for a regional speciality, graham cracker-cream pie. It is vanilla pudding on a graham cracker crust topped with meringue and crushed graham crackers.
We’ve been back to Indiana and Kentucky a couple more times; in 2015 and 2019. I’ve already posted reports of those trips. The only Midwest vacation we’ve taken that I can’t share with you is that first one from 2006. I apparently wasn’t photographing my food yet.