Nashville nosh

I graduated from Indiana University in the early 1990s, and Bloomington will always hold a special place in my heart, but I never really spent any time in nearby Nashville or Brown County except for an occasional drive-through on trips back home when I felt like taking the country route. When you consider how crazy scenic and charming the whole area is, this seems downright disrespectful. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to right my wrong.

beautiful Brown County State Park

Between stints of walking through the adorable shops of Nashville proper, horseback riding, journeying the annual artist studio and gardens tour through some of the most outerlying rural terrain, and an overnight stay at Abe Martin Lodge on the grounds of gorgeous Brown County State Park, I enjoyed some tasty meals.

Words that come to mind when I think of Nashville and Brown County: cute, small-town, old-fashioned, country, charming. Cutting-edge cuisine? Nope. But that’s perfectly ok. If you’re looking for fancy four-star meals full of frills and garnishes, keep on driving. If you’re in the mood for the kind of nostalgic, old-school eats you’ve probably grown up on (if you were born and raised in Indiana, that is), you’ve come to the right place.

Case in point — Hob Nob Corner is about as old-school as you can get in this neck of the woods. Literally. It’s housed in the Taggart Building at the corner of Main and Van Buren, the oldest commercial building in town and dating back to 1873 (the restaurant’s been operating here since 1973).

Hob Nob Corner Restaurant

These days, visitors flock for down-home breakfasts along the lines of eggs, bacon, sausage, hash, oatmeal and French toast. (I was surprised to see huevos rancheros on the menu, it was the only nod to ethnic food I noticed anywhere the entire weekend.) And of course, you can’t call yourself a real-deal breakfast joint in Indiana without serving classic biscuits and gravy. I’ll bet it’s good here, although I opted for the pancakes with bacon on the side.

Hob Nob pancakes

Hubby filled up on the basic breakfast of two eggs, toast and bacon, and added on a slice of country ham to boot cause that’s how he rolls.  (Hubby wants me to mention that he had just biked 70 miles from Indy to Nashville the day prior, and that’s why he needed the extra protein…) Everything was down-home delicious.

hubby’s Hob Nob brekkie

Hobnob Corner on Urbanspoon

For dinner, we visited Brown County’s hometown microbrewery, Big Woods Brewing Company. If we lived down here, I have a feeling this place would claim a lot of our time and money. Like most places in Nashville, the décor is all rustic wood lodge with high beamed ceilings. Big Woods is newer than most, open just since November 2009. The vibe feels a little like Thr3e Wise Men here in Indy, except Big Woods isn’t kid-friendly. The clientele is strictly 21 and up.

The food at Big Woods is probably the most new-fangled of any I saw in town. On the menu — a half dozen or so housemade microbrews (the refreshing Six-Foot Blonde was just our speed), along with a selection of pizzas, sandwiches and apps.

Big Woods Six Foot Blonde Ale

The spinach artichoke dip and Emily’s Garden veggie pizza we shared both arrived piping hot and loaded with super-fresh ingredients. Highly recommend.

Emily’s Garden pizza at Big Woods Brewing Company

Big Woods Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

As an IU grad, several people told me I HAD to make sure I visited that sandwich place… I thought they were speaking non-specifically, but no. The name of the restaurant is actually That Sandwich Place, and anyone with any amount of interest in IU basketball needs to put lunch or breakfast here on their Brown County itinerary.

Visiting this eatery is like worshipping at the church of Bobby Knight. The walls, counters, columns, ceilings — every possible surface is covered with memorabilia, some items ranging back as far as the early 1970s. Seems the restaurant opened around the same time Knight arrived in Bloomington and the owner remains a personal friend. Love him or hate him, Knight is an undeniably charismatic figure that demands attention. An oversized General doll in a glass case holds court (get it???) over the restaurant from its post by the register.

all hail, the General

Down a short flight of stairs, subterranean That Sandwich Place serves simple greasy-spoon breakfast and lunch fare. There’s not a ton of stuff to choose from, just a handful of sandwiches complemented by fries, cole slaw and deviled eggs, and a hi-calorie salad laden with ham, cheese and sunflower seeds. No joke, that’s what it’s called. They are not messing around with any diet food here. At least they’re upfront about it.

tenderloin platter at That Sandwich Place

Hubby and I split a Piggy Wiggy tenderloin platter. The thin crispy pork patty was obviously pre-formed, and reminded me of the kind of sandwich I grew up eating at the local drive-ins in Richmond. Good fries, too.

We ate with wide-eyed wonder, taking in the ambiance. Indiana, oh Indiana, we ARE all for you.

That Sandwich Place on Urbanspoon

Bon appetit, Brown County!

For more info:

http://www.browncounty.com/

http://www.browncounty.com/listing/hobnob-corner-restaurant

http://www.bigwoodsbeer.com/

(Can’t find a web site for That Sandwich Place. Guess you’ll just have to go there and see it for yourself.)

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The chicken and the egg

We have certainly enjoyed some frickin’ fantastic food in the past few days – and homecooked, none the less!

Hubby and I have been trying to cut back on our spending and eat chez dollhouse apartment more often this week. This involves a daily shopping excursion.  The French culture does not dictate stocking up on groceries a week at a time at the nearest Walmart Supercenter or Costco. In fact, les Francais would probably be horrified at such an idea. Here, it’s all about buying what’s freshest and most beautiful from a series of local vendors on any given day. Case in point, this afternoon while shopping for tonight’s dinner, I stopped into no less than four different stores. Each a small specialty vendor and conveniently all on the same stretch of street, it actually makes for a pleasant little shopping experience. Plus, this sneaky way of building more physical activity into the day is one of the reasons I’ve been able to enjoy pastries and cafe cremes every morning of this trip and still feel my pants loosening around the waist. 

First up on my list of stops — the supermarche, as much as it can be called one here, it’s really more like a glorified quick-stop mart. There, I bought toothpaste, baby food and a bottle of wine. The wine shopping here is really kinda ridiculous, in the best possible way. There are the specialty wine vendors up and down the streets who I’m sure sell nice wines, better than supermarket quality in any case. If we lived here, I would seek one out and build a relationship with him, asking his personal advice on what to buy for any given occasion or meal. However, I have had absolutely no problem with the supermarket wines I’ve had here whatsoever. We’re talking about wines on par with anything you’d get back home for more than a tenner and up. Only here, they cost about $3 or $4 a bottle. NICE. 

Next stop was the butcher for one of those aromatic temptress rotisserie chickens we’ve been admiring since we got here. At 10 euros a pop, this bird was a little pricier than the rotisserie chickens you’d get back home, but whatever. We couldn’t spend two weeks here and not try one. Then came a jaunt into the fresh produce corner stand for some super-skinny haricot verts (petite green beans), which set me back about $2. A final run into the boulangerie for the evening’s baguette (about a dollar) and a big slice of mouthwatering pear charlotte cake for hubby and I to split for our dessert. Et voila. The evening meal. It may get old shopping this way every single day, but for now, it’s really quite interesting, educational and fun.

When I got home and unpacked the groceries, hubby and I decided to walk out with the baby for a pre-dinner beverage at Cafe Rempart on the corner. Hubby’s been here a couple times lately and is becoming something of a regular. The guys who work there recognize him now and are jovial and friendly to us, a comforting bonus in a city legendary for its rudeness. I’m always sort of surprised when the locals aren’t complete jerks to us, but then again, we are making an effort to speak the language. From what I can tell, it’s all about your attitude. Paris is a perfect place to fake it ’til you make it. Even if you’re not in the inner circle, if you can act like you belong there just as much as anyone else, chances are you’ll do just fine. 

After two glasses of wine for me (my first white of the trip – a fragrant light Sancerre) and a couple beers for hubby, we returned to the apartment where I heated up the chicken, boiled the green beans for a few minutes until tender and topped them with a small spoonful of butter and a light sprinkling of salt, sliced some baguette and cheese and threw it all onto the tiny table. Delicious. The chicken was every bit as juicy and tasty as we’d imagined it would be, and the green beans succulent, cooked just to al dente.

 

me cooking in the dollhouse kitchen!

me cooking in the dollhouse kitchen!

 

Again, the French culture seems to dictate that less is more in these instances. When you start out with quality ingredients right from the get-go, they are already so delicious that they really don’t need much, if any, adornment to maximize their full potential.

 

who'd eat KFC when you could have this??

who'd eat KFC when you could have this??

 

Last night’s dinner was another example. Hubby did the shopping and came home with some farm fresh eggs and ham for an omelet. (With the requisite baguette, of course. Natch). With only two small temperamental electric burners on the cooktop, one big-ass pan and no spatula to work with, I must admit I was a little nervous about how it would all work out. I had some mushroom and zucchini left over from our pasta dinner the night before, so I sauteed it all up with some ham and shredded some lovely Emmentaler cheese for the omelet. The eggs themselves were huge with gorgeous bright sunshiny yellow yolks. I cracked four into a bowl with just the lightest splash of milk and whipped it all together. 

Having discovered that the best way to work the cooktop is to crank both burners up to high and hope for the best, I got the pan as close as I could to steaming, then dumped in the eggs. They cooked slowly, but seemed to set up just fine and by the time I scattered on the fillings and folded the whole concoction in two steps, the omelet looked great! I was thrilled. The end result – YUM. 

I don’t know if it’s the French methods of cultivation or what, but simple food items are so much more flavorful than the same versions back home. The eggs and the chicken are perfect examples. They both are so flavorful, I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like they are a much more authentic version of themselves. I’m sure mass production and FDA requirements take something away from the end product in America, as well as our penchant for drowning foods in salt, butter, ketchup, gravy and whatever else we can get our hands on. All I know is that the eggs here in France are the most delicious I’ve ever had. Hubby and I have agreed to try the omelet again this weekend with a little cheese as the only accompaniment. Again, I have no doubt that simple is the way to go to ensure a stellar result.