Big Wheel, keep on turning…

Fall is in the air and school is back in session. I’ve been daydreaming about my time at Indiana University and craving a visit to Bloomington like crazy. I have wonderful memories of my college days, and southern Indiana is absolutely gorgeous when the leaves start to turn. Since this is a food blog, after all, it seems a perfect opportunity to pay tribute to some of my favorite I.U.-related eating experiences. In no particular order, here we go: Big Wheel. Let’s all take a moment and pay homage, shall we? My mom was actually born and raised in Bloomington and my grandparents lived there for a long time, so I have plenty of childhood memories of B-ton trips from as long back as I can remember. Big Wheel was a presence even back then in the 1970s. Situated on north College Ave., Big Wheel was one of the first restaurants you’d see when you entered town from the north. Landmarked by, what else, a big neon wheel, it was hard to miss. This place was seriously old-school – big, roomy vinyl booths and a menu full of traditional down-homey breakfast-lunch-dinner favorites. Country-fried steaks, chicken and noodles, pie, you get the idea…It was sort of like a Denny’s or IHOP, but locally owned and operated, which automatically makes it better. Waffle House couldn’t hold a candle to Big Wheel, even though it did dish up a very respectable biscuits and sausage gravy… While I attended I.U., Big Wheel became the sight of many a late-night study session and dinners with my Varsity Villas roommates. Rumor has it, Big Wheel was one of Bob Knight’s favorite places to hold meetings with various administrators and pals, but I never saw him there. I was heartbroken when the Big Wheel finally closed its doors. It’s since been torn down and replaced with a prefab Steak ‘n Shake, last I checked. Sniffle, sniffle. Pizza Express breadsticks. After rolling in from Kilroy’s or Hooligans at 3 a.m., nothing soaks up all the booze better than a order of Pizza Express breadsticks and cheese sauce, delivered hot and steamy right to your door. Except maybe… Kilroy’s 25-cent nachos. Kilroy’s was the first bar I legally entered at midnight the day I turned 21. Way back then (we’re talking early 1990s here), Kilroy’s featured a serve-yourself nacho bar. For one slim quarter, you got a basket of chips and as many toppings as you could scoop on – salsa, cheese and sour cream. I shudder to think how many of those baskets I consumed, along with a cold Coors Light or one of those crazy banana-strawberry daquiris they used to serve. IU Memorial Union, Sugar and Spice, Special K bars. I believe Sugar and Spice is still there, but wouldn’t bet my life on it. It’s just a tiny little busy snack/coffee counter nestled in a corner of the Union, but if you hit the line at just the right time, you could snag a Special K bar to eat on the way to your next class. Think Rice Krispie treat, but made with Special K and peanut butter instead, flatter, chewier and way more gooey. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about one. Loaf and Ladle, Nutty Bird sandwich. Another casualty of urban development, the Loaf and Ladle is no more, but back in the day, it served fantastic soup-and-sandwich lunches from its cozy little perch on the northeast corner of the town square. The Nutty Bird was a tasty turkey sandwich with cream cheese, sunflower seeds and sprouts, as I recall. With a cup of the soup of the day, it was darn near the perfect lunch. Village Deli. I can’t remember the specifics exactly, but they used to serve some sort of breakfast monstrosity that pretty much threw in everything you’d ever want to eat in the morning. It started with a layer of breakfast potatoes topped with scrambled eggs, sausage gravy and cheese on top. Maybe I just imagined it during one hungover visit after a particularly long bender at Jakes… Mother Bear’s Pizza. What is there to say? Except it’s fabulous. Mustard’s bears mentioning for its do-it-yourself burger bar, as does the meatball sandwich at Macri’s Deli and the lasagna from Grisanti’s. I know there are other dishes and locales I’m forgetting. Please forgive me, it’s been (gulp) 20 years since I was stomping around those grounds. Would love to hear from other IU alums about your favorite Bloomington food memories. And in the meantime, Indiana, oh Indiana… we’re all for you! 3772470003_7690c3676f

4 thoughts on “Big Wheel, keep on turning…

  1. I was just thinking about the Big Wheel the other day. Ate there many a Sunday with my college crush in the late ’80s. So sad to hear it’s gone!

  2. I grew up just outside of Bloomington, and going to the Big Wheel was a big deal for the family, we would go after IU basketball games, or if we went to the movies in town. they made the second best spaghetti in the world ( after my mom’s of course) and a damn good skirt steak. memories like this are the true golden days of used-to-be…

  3. I must have been down at IU about the same time. All these places bring back fond memories!! Stopped at Sugar and Spice in the summer, took a picture of the special K bar and text it to one of my sorority sisters with the notation ” can you guess where I am” Took all of 5 seconds for her to reply correctly. Grisanti’s and Mustards mere musts when the parents came to town!

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