Another day, another outstanding dinner. I’m not trying to brag or anything, but I’m really on a roll when it comes to great meals. Last night, two girlfriends and I enjoyed a fabulous supper at Bonge’s Tavern in Perkinsville.
Located essentially in the middle of nowhere just west of Anderson, we feared we might have gotten lost in the dark on the way up. It takes awhile to make the drive from Indy, but as it turned out, the food and ambiance were WELL worth the 40-minute or so trip.
Bonge’s (pronounced with a hard “e” – like BONG-ee) makes its home in an old barn building amid a scattering of residential houses. Festooned as it is with a huge sign and Christmas lights, you can’t miss it.
Customers come from miles around to eat here. Since the dining room isn’t large and they only take reservations for parties of 10 or more, people often find themselves cooling their heels in the gravel parking lots. During the summer months, tailgating makes the wait much more interesting.
As it was, our visit took place on a chilly winter Tuesday night, so there was no one hanging around playing cornhole outside. We didn’t have to wait for a table, but the place was still fairly busy. The décor is cozy, borderline country-kitschy, the kind of place you might expect to receive a good solid serving of barbecue or fried chicken. But no. While still familiar and accessible to most central Indiana palates, this food is upscale and top-shelf when it comes to quality. Think fine dining food without the stuffy, fine dining atmosphere.
We settled in and warmed up with a spicy, fruity bottle of Australian Shiraz as we considered our options. There are no hard copy menus; the give-or-take half dozen entree choices are simply scrawled on a chalkboard above the bar — a short list of meat, poultry and fish. No vegetarian options to speak of, although you could easily make a meal out of soup, salad, bread and dessert and be quite happy about it.
Our server ran down the menu with us and described the preparations of each item, which made decision-making even more difficult because everything sounded wonderful. Finally, I went for the Perkinsville pork, and my friends ordered the Harger duck and the scallops. The beer-braised brisket also sounded tempting, as did the NY strip with whiskey peppercorn sauce. So did the chicken breast topped with crab. Heck, it all made my mouth water!
All dinners start with a cup of Bonge’s famous creamy tomato soup or a wedge salad with housemade blue cheese or raspberry vinaigrette dressing. I’m a blue cheese junkie, so I got the salad and my like-minded friends both followed suit. We regretted not at least tasting the soup, though, so Laura asked our server if we could just have a little sample to try. Lo and behold, they brought us each a tiny ramekin, and it was delicious. Topped with croutons, it tasted like a great homemade chunky but creamy tomato soup with a little bit of chili seasoning.
Our salads arrived — massive wedges of iceberg lettuce drenched in awesome blue cheese dressing. I gnawed my way through half or so, trying to save room for the entrée still to come.
So on to the meat… excuse me. I must take a moment as I remember this food. It was that good. My Perkinsville pork was a tender and flavorful pounded-thin cutlet topped with a lemon slice to squeeze over, on par with the authentic schnitzels I’ve enjoyed in Germany.
Laura’s Harger duck was unlike anything I’ve ever seen or tasted. The breast was rolled and stuffed with a jalapeno-laced cream cheese filling; then wrapped with bacon, cooked and topped with a spicy plum barbecue sauce. It sounds strange on paper, but oh. So. Good.
Michelle’s plump scallops were delectably fresh, perfectly cooked and topped with her choice of flavored butter. She went for the caper butter, a perfect complement to the meaty shellfish.
All our entrees were served with a few roasted potatoes and a couple of asparagus spears, which were all fine and dandy, but really took a back seat to the proteins. And you can forget the boring old baguette, the breadbasket here contains squares of super-moist and yummy jalapeno cornbread.
As we were finishing up, a couple of obvious regulars leaving from the next table had seen me taking photos and stopped by to rave about this place. Not that I needed any convincing. Hand on heart, everything we ate was spectacular. The only downside was that we were too stuffed to order a dessert. I can’t wait to come back again.
Bonge’s Tavern is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, and admittance is 21 and up only, so plan your visit accordingly.
For more information, www.bongestavern.com.