I have a complicated relationship with my home state, Indiana. Three quarters of the people I love best in all the world live in the Hoosier State, a rather rustic and idyllic childhood was spent running in the woods there, I spent my amazing college years there, and yet I often have mixed feelings when I board a plane bound for IND. Maybe it’s because I’m the polar opposite of the typical Hoosier ideological profile. Maybe it’s because I run into someone I’d rather not see every. single. time. I visit.
So it was even more surprising to me that when I embarked on a long-weekend touring northern Indiana this past July, I encountered not only the best restaurant meal I’ve ever had in the mid-west (one that competes with some of the best meals I’ve had in Europe and in much more cosmopolitan locales in the US), but delicious cider, some nice wines, charming inns, antique stores, and beautiful vistas that made for three perfect days in Indiana.
There is something to be said for going on a road-trip without the kids, with your best pal, an iPod fully loaded with songs best enjoyed while singing right along, no real map to speak of, and an assortment of food, wine, and knitting that looked like it went with a much longer trip. The occasion? Twenty-one amazing, tumultuous (amazingly tumultuous?) years of friendship. Here’s what our itinerary looked like:
We started the morning the way all good girlie trips should start: with coffee and mani/pedis. If it had been 1993 (a pinnacle year in our lives and our friendship), we probably would have been hung-over and gone to Perkins. My, how times have changed. We headed north out of Indianapolis and stopped in Noblesville for lunch and a little antiquing on the square. Interesting how the town-formerly-known-as-Nobletuckey has gentrified in the last twenty years!
After making fun of ourselves for it taking nearly six hours for us to leave the county, we headed north to Converse, Indiana, to try some wine at Oak Hill Wines. While their quaint tasting room is in a vine-bedecked old carriage house, the first thing we noticed was that the best parking was actually at the gas station next door. The friendly staff walked us through their list of uncomplicated, but drinkable, wines and we were on our way to Wabash.
We stayed at the delightful Charley Creek Inn, whose recent renovations produced gorgeous bathrooms and spacious rooms fitted with beautiful antiques. Dinner in the hotel’s restaurant–a twenties-style piano bar–was good, but breakfast (included in the price of our room) was even better! And at $122 a night for a double queen room, I was more than satisfied with the cleanliness, the beauty of the hotel’s common areas and room, and the friendly service. Wabash is a beautiful town set in one of the hillier sections of otherwise flat northern Indiana, so overall, this was a lovely stop!
The itinerary for this expertly-planned trip was dinner on Saturday at Joseph Decuis in Roanoke, Indiana. Corrina knew she could rope me in to a good “farm to fork” experience even if their specialty is Kobe-style Wagyu beef (I almost never eat red meat. In fact, come to think of it, I never eat it unless I’m with Corrina.).
But before we could check into the lovely Joseph Decuis Inn, tour their immaculate farm, or dine in their amazing restaurant, we had to swing south to visit a place that we missed on Friday due to the lackadaisical pace of our journey: McClure’s Orchard.
Not only does this place deliver gorgeous traditional apple dumplings in their appropriately-named Apple Dumpling Inn, but they also have delicious cider. And if you happen to stop by with the children in tow, there are miniature horses, bunnies, goats, and other farm animals to entertain them while you taste cider. Their “Grandpa’s” Cider is Bourbon barrel aged and the sweet smokiness of the Bourbon paired with the mellow tartness of the apples made it one of the best hard ciders I’ve ever tasted. Other ones to watch out for included Spy Candy (made with an heirloom apple called the Northern Spy), their Cyser, and [M]apfelwein.
At last, we arrived in Roanoake. I have to admit that it’s a bit of a creepy place if, like me, you’ve watched one too many horror movies. There is literally music piped onto the tiny quaint main street from one of the many shop-fronts still bedecked with red, white, and blue from Independence Day. I expected zombies to burst out at any minute, but instead, we found the lovely Food Emporium, from which we wandered on to the Inn to check in before our farm tour.
The Inn itself is a comfortable old Victorian with several rooms upstairs and a large shared living area on the main floor. Stocked with board games, movies, and a fridge full of snacks, it’s a beautiful place even if the price tag made it less affordable than Charley Creek.
The farm is just a few miles outside town and is worth a tour if you’re interested in what modern farmers can do to create lovely local sustainable food. We got to preview the squash blossoms that adorned one of our courses, toured the amazing outdoor kitchen that they use for staff parties and other events, and of course, we got to meet the cows. Unlike some other farms I’ve toured, these barns were amazingly clean, virtually odorless, and naturally devoid of flies due to a couple of biological control methods. You could definitely believe that these were happy, humanely-raised cows, which made me feel a little better about what was coming: beef for dinner!
It didn’t take long for us to choose the chef’s selection dinner, which included six courses and wine pairings. The only sticker was that they had my favorite food, morels, on the menu, but not on as part of the chef’s dinner. So we made it a seven course dinner, which might have been overkill had we known what was to come. We ate our way through the mushrooms and moved on to roasted baby beets, those squash blossoms we’d seen earlier in the day, succulent salmon, and of course, the beef.
Every single bite was delicious, beautifully presented, and expertly paired with an interesting wine. The staff were present and helpful without interrupting our conversation, which was, as always, non-stop. By dessert, we were thoroughly done (and a little drunk off the healthy pours!), and made them box up the lovely chocolate confection to take back to the Inn with us.
This dinner was undoubtedly a splurge on just about any budget, but worth it for a very special night out!
After the indulgences of the previous night, we were in no hurry to head home. Breakfast at the Inn included a lovely quiche from the Emporium as well as scones, fruit, and endless coffee/tea.
We finally dragged ourselves to the car and headed south, stopping at Whyte Horse Winery in Monticello and enjoying the Traminette that they make with grapes grown on the property and a really nice dry berry wine.
This trip had little bits and pieces of our last twenty years all in one three-day bundle. We lived out of our car. We got lost. We sang. We ate good food. We drank too much booze (but less than we did 20 years ago!). We didn’t sleep enough (but more than we did 20 years ago!). We almost ate lunch at Mr. Weenie’s for lack of a better viable option (luckily, we found something!). We talked. And talked. And talked. And…
Yep, definitely three perfect days!