Sunday, July 8, 2007

Eating in Southern Indiana

It's unlikely that you'll find yourself in southern Indiana. Most of it is accessible only from two-lane state highways, and these days, nobody goes anywhere unless there's an exit off an interstate. That's really too bad, because southern Indiana is beautiful, and there are some great places to eat there.

If you're down by Amish country in Daviess, Martin, and Orange counties, head down through Loogootee (that's pronounced luh-GOH-tee, not lu-GU-tee) toward Washington (watch for buggies). Halfway between the two is a small town (population: 368) named Montgomery. Montgomery is home to the Gasthof Amish Village, where you can buy quilts and furniture (yes, of course, it's authentic). There is also a restaurant there, with amazing food (make sure you do not miss the pie), open seven days a week. Because of Amish religious restrictions, Mennonites staff the restaurant (you can tell, you know, by the clothing, particularly the style of cap women wear). Astoundingly great food.

Should you find yourself in Dubois county further to the south, head to Jasper, home of the largest gun club in the state of Indiana (also home to the largest car dealership in the state of Indiana, Uebelhor Motors–pronounced EE-bel-hor,), and a city by the standards of that part of Indiana (population: 12,000). If you're there in the first week of August, go to the Strassenfest. While you're there, you might want to check out St. Joseph's, one of the three large Catholic churches in Jasper; it was built on a foundation of four huge trees, one at each corner. Jasper is a beautiful town, sparkling clean (not that I want to promote stereotypes or anything), with lovely homes. Do not leave without a trip to the Jasper City Bakery, at least for a loaf of the rye. When you get hungry, turn toward Ferdinand from downtown Jasper, and on your left is the Schnitzelbank (or the Schnitz, as the locals call it). The decor is pure kitsch, but the food is remarkable. I always get the sauerbraten, and the German fries are just like we ate at home (anywhere you stop to eat in that part of Indiana is likely to have both American fries and German fries on the menu; American fries are fried potatoes, and German fries are fried potatoes with lots of onions in them).

Speaking of German fries, fried in general, and Dubois county, the best fried chicken in the world is in Ireland, just down the road from Jasper, at the Chicken Place (really). The German fries are as good as those at the Schnitz, and the German potato salad is even better. Being Germans, they serve beer in ridiculously large quantities. Try it in a schooner.

Mathies (no website) in Dubois (population: 1600), halfway between Jasper and French Lick, also has great fried chicken and steaks. They also serve beer in ridiculously large vessels.

The Benedictine Archabbey at St. Meinrad, south of Jasper, is worth the trip to see the church alone (try to stay for Mass; hearing the monks sing Gregorian chants is a heavenly experience). The archabbey is self-supporting, and the monks used to make and sell a huge variety of regional German sausages and cheeses. I am sad to report that they no longer do. If you go to the archabbey, be aware that many groups (even Protestants) from around the state go there for retreats, and you likely won't be the only visitors.

We used to eat at the Villager in French Lick (actually it's in West Baden, but only locals know the difference) partly because it was one of only three local restaurants (except for the hotel), partly because it was the best of the three, and partly because my parents were good friends of the owners. They always did have good, homestyle food there, but I can't vouch for it because I haven't eaten there in . . . oh . . . over thirty years. But it is still there.

If you like the outdoors, visit Patoka Lake, about halfway between French Lick and Jasper (it's visible on the map below). Our farm (well, we sold it) was right on Patoka, lakeside property. Next to the Patoka Lake is Tillery Hill, one of the most popular destinations for hunters in deer season. Both the French Lick and West Baden hotels have been renovated, and are open. I haven't seen the renovated French Lick hotel (it never went out of business like the West Baden hotel did), but the West Baden hotel is something to see. And if you're into that sort of thing, there's a casino there.

If you're interested in visiting the area, click on the map below to get the large, readable version (the red stars mark Montgomery and Jasper). Be aware that the terrain is very hilly, and the roads are curvy and tend to be narrow–and locals drive 70 on them (just in case you wonder why people are whizzing past you when you're driving 30).

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