Nick’s still does the trick

For many Indiana University alumni, no Bloomington establishment evokes stronger nostalgia than Nick’s English Hut. (Which is neither English in origin, or a hut. Discuss.) Just saying the name brings to mind (usually drunken) visions of the quirky little shingled-awning, half-timbered façade on Kirkwood Avenue just a block from the edge of campus. Indeed, within stumbling distance.

Nick’s English Hut on Kirkwood Ave.

Inside, the nearly eighty-year-old restaurant welcomes drinkers and diners into its dark and cozy man-cave environs with Indiana University memorabilia strewn over every available inch of space. Be forewarned, taking in the IU license plates, photos, pennants, mounted deer heads and newsprint-style tables feels like looking through a giant kaleidoscope, and being in here for any length of time can be enough to make you feel dizzy. If the room starts to spin, just focus on the food, or one of the televisions scattered throughout the joint (this is one of the best spots in town to settle in for an IU game).

I didn’t hang out at Nick’s often when I was an IU student, but I do recall one particular end-of-semester happy hour with J-school ethics class comrades and regular lunches here with coworkers when I interned at the Herald-Times newspaper. This was 20-some years ago. The menu doesn’t appear to have changed much since then. Chili, sandwiches, pizza and deep-fried apps are what you want here.

My old college partner in crime (her nickname, in fact, was the Crime Dog), and I hit Nick’s for dinner about a week ago when I passed through town. First, we fueled up on a mini-pitcher of beer across the street at Kilroy’s, our old hang. If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard “last call for alcohol!” within those walls… but that’s another story. Nick’s seemed more family-friendly than I remembered, perhaps because you can no longer smoke inside. Maybe we’re just older now.

Nick’s mushrooms with Dijon dipping sauce

We shared an order of the (deep-fried, of course) mushrooms as a starter. Yummy, greasy beer-battered goodness on a plate. The Dijon mayo dipping sauce was pretty tasty, too.

cup of Nick’s house-recipe chili

I followed this up with a cup of cheddar-smothered chili; Crime Dog went with the stromboli. Both house specialties. Nothing fancy, just the kind of solidly dependable eats you want in a place like this.

Nick’s famous stromboli

They say change is good. Not always, though.

For more information, visit www.nicksenglishhut.com.

Nick's English Hut on Urbanspoon

Advertisements

Nick's still does the trick

For many Indiana University alumni, no Bloomington establishment evokes stronger nostalgia than Nick’s English Hut. (Which is neither English in origin, or a hut. Discuss.) Just saying the name brings to mind (usually drunken) visions of the quirky little shingled-awning, half-timbered façade on Kirkwood Avenue just a block from the edge of campus. Indeed, within stumbling distance.

Nick’s English Hut on Kirkwood Ave.

Inside, the nearly eighty-year-old restaurant welcomes drinkers and diners into its dark and cozy man-cave environs with Indiana University memorabilia strewn over every available inch of space. Be forewarned, taking in the IU license plates, photos, pennants, mounted deer heads and newsprint-style tables feels like looking through a giant kaleidoscope, and being in here for any length of time can be enough to make you feel dizzy. If the room starts to spin, just focus on the food, or one of the televisions scattered throughout the joint (this is one of the best spots in town to settle in for an IU game).

I didn’t hang out at Nick’s often when I was an IU student, but I do recall one particular end-of-semester happy hour with J-school ethics class comrades and regular lunches here with coworkers when I interned at the Herald-Times newspaper. This was 20-some years ago. The menu doesn’t appear to have changed much since then. Chili, sandwiches, pizza and deep-fried apps are what you want here.

My old college partner in crime (her nickname, in fact, was the Crime Dog), and I hit Nick’s for dinner about a week ago when I passed through town. First, we fueled up on a mini-pitcher of beer across the street at Kilroy’s, our old hang. If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard “last call for alcohol!” within those walls… but that’s another story. Nick’s seemed more family-friendly than I remembered, perhaps because you can no longer smoke inside. Maybe we’re just older now.

Nick’s mushrooms with Dijon dipping sauce

We shared an order of the (deep-fried, of course) mushrooms as a starter. Yummy, greasy beer-battered goodness on a plate. The Dijon mayo dipping sauce was pretty tasty, too.

cup of Nick’s house-recipe chili

I followed this up with a cup of cheddar-smothered chili; Crime Dog went with the stromboli. Both house specialties. Nothing fancy, just the kind of solidly dependable eats you want in a place like this.

Nick’s famous stromboli

They say change is good. Not always, though.

For more information, visit www.nicksenglishhut.com.

Nick's English Hut on Urbanspoon

Sugar and Spice = everything nice

This week, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a few relaxing days revisiting my old Indiana University stomping grounds. Hard to believe it’s been 20 (gulp) years since I was a student here. While some parts of town are nearly unrecognizable to me now, others comfortingly haven’t changed at all.

After a massively unhealthy Waffle House breakfast of biscuits and gravy with a side of hash browns, I didn’t get hungry again until well after lunch hour. I figured a sweet treat might be in order to tide me over until dinner, and I knew exactly where to go.

Indiana Memorial Union

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in line at Sugar and Spice within the hallowed halls of the Indiana Memorial Union building. This little gem commandeers prime corner real estate right across from the IU bookstore, and the place is like crack for students in need of a sugar rush. Although I noticed some updates — they now promote organic ingredients and make wedding cakes, the bakery still felt very familiar.

Sugar and Spice in the IMU

Since IU classes haven’t started yet, the line was mercifully short. At times, I’ve seen it wind out the door and into the hallway. The display cases are full of huge gorgeous cupcakes, iced cookies and muffins, but for me, only one item would do. I prayed it was still on the menu, visually searching the shelves with my fingers crossed behind my back. Lo and behold – there it was. The Special K chewy. One please, and an iced latte. Thanks.

I grabbed a seat in the commons and gingerly peeled back the waxed paper from my sticky prize. How do I describe this heavenly creation? The Special K chewy is sort of like a Rice Krispie treat (which Sugar and Spice also sells, natch), but flatter, much more gooey and made with Special K. And peanut butter. I don’t think it’s even cooked. Just check out the photo. I’m not sure what kind of sounds I was unconsciously emitting as I ate it, but the guy at the next table over kept looking my way. I think he was torn between wondering whether he should call for a medic or ask for my phone number.

the peanut butter Special K chewy

The Special K chewy was so good, I was inspired to go back for a chocolate chunk cookie. You know. Just to round things out. This was “lunch” after all…

straight-up chocolate chunk cookie

For more info:

http://www.imu.indiana.edu/dining/sugarspice.shtml

Sugar 'n Spice on Urbanspoon

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.)

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