Hit this Bonge

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 Tavern on a quiet weeknight

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.

Bonge’s Tavern menu on the night of our visit

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.

Bonge’s wedge salad

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.

the Perkinsville pork

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.

the Hargar duck

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.

scallops with caper butter

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.

Bonge's Tavern Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Local anesthetic

Nothing around these parts really holds a candle to the authentic Irish pub. Americanized wannabe versions? Forget it. The closest thing I’ve found to the real deal here in Indianapolis would probably have to be the Broad Ripple Brew Pub, but the owner there is English, not Irish, and the two nationalities tend to get a little bent out of shape when you mistake one for the other.

In Ireland, stopping by the pub is the next best thing to parking your butt in your favorite recliner with a nice cold beer at the end of a long day. Maybe even better. The goal of the pub, short for “public house” FYI, is to provide a comfortable, cozy atmosphere not unlike an extension of your own living room where patrons can swing in for a pint, some food, and a chat with friends and neighbors. My Irish in-laws often speak of their “locals” with pride and affection, but it’s hard to find establishments that serve the same purpose stateside in the land of nameless, faceless fast food and soulless chain restaurants. Places where everybody knows your name are few and far between.

After countless visits, meals and drinks, I think hubby and I have established our own local here in Indy. It actually used to be the Broad Ripple Brew Pub; we had our first date there years ago and congregated with friends nearly every Sunday night (and usually at least one additional night each week). Proximity and fondness have since led us to Sahm’s Place, just east of Broad Ripple and within quick walking distance from our home.

Can’t remember exactly when we started to hang out at Sahm’s Place on a regular basis, but it had to have been several years ago when I was pregnant with our son. I was on bed rest for a good three months, and hubby started frequenting the joint. This arrangement worked well — hubby could get out for a break, still be right around the corner if needed, and grab a take-out for me on the way home. Once I was finally mobile again, I recall walking to Sahm’s when the weather broke in April. Heavily pregnant and trying desperately to kick-start my labor, I sat at the bar panting, trying to catch my breath and jealously watching hubby enjoy a beer.

Since those days, one or the other of us has visited Sahm’s probably once a week. It’s become hubby’s regular Wednesday night hang with the guys, we often take our three-year-old in for meals, and I have been known to stop in solo on occasion for dinner. It’s our go-to. They know us there. Heck, they seem to know everybody there. Last night, hardly a soul came in without receiving a personal greeting and hearty handshake. The servers are impressed by the toddler’s ordering abilities. How many little boys do you know can stop in somewhere and ask for “the usual,” knowing he’ll promptly receive a glass of sparkling water with a slice of cucumber? I love that.

Sahm’s Place is one of a handful of Sahm’s locations scattered around town. My cousin Jenny, who lives in Fishers, first turned me on to the franchise way back when. We would stop in the eatery at Allisonville and 116th, and it quickly became “our place.” She even ordered chicken salad sandwiches from there for my baby shower buffet. Sahm’s is cool like that. There’s something about it that feels very homey — definitely the food, but also the fact that it’s family-owned. It’s just the kind of all-around place you can hang out in to watch the game, bring your family for dinner, or meet a girlfriend for lunch or a glass of wine.

Sited in a small strip just in front of Kroger at 65th and Keystone, I almost feel like Sahm’s Place flies a little under the radar, although maybe that’s not accurate to say because it’s usually quite busy whenever we stop in. When you say Sahm’s, most Indy folks probably think of the original flagship Fishers location or the downtown spot, but Sahm’s Place more than holds its own.

view from the end of the bar at Sahm's Place

There is a full-service restaurant section, but we always sit on the bar side. The bar itself is partitioned off by half-walls, so we can still bring the little guy in with us to sit at one of the tables along the far wall. Although there are plenty of good old familiar domestic beer options, I like that Sahm’s puts an emphasis on local and regional craft beers as well. It’s one of the few places that hubby goes in and just asks for whatever they think he’ll like.

Foodwise, the wide-ranging Sahm’s menu covers all the bases for lunch and dinner. If you can’t find something to eat here, you’re just not trying. There’s a good selection of salads, each served with a slice of Sahm’s signature coffeecake for a little sweet treat bonus on the side. I often order the Southwest chicken salad, a huge bowl of fresh lettuce, tomato, cheese, olives and tortilla strips with a spicy grilled chicken breast atop. The double whammy of salsa ranch and creamy lime dressings on the side really make it, though. I could drink both of these out of the ramekins.

buffalo chicken sandwich with carrot curls and a Sun King Wee Mac

The hefty sandwich selections are more than filling, and that’s what we went for last night. I particularly like the buffalo chicken, the breaded tenderloin (this is Indiana, after all), and the spinach melt. On the side? Skip the fries and go for the carrot curls. Think potato chips made from carrot. Yum. Yum. Yum.

the ubiquitous Indiana pork tenderloin

There’s also pasta, stir fry and a handful of entrée items to consider. Sahm’s does a very respectable steak dinner at a good price — ask for your New York strip served Pittsburgh-style on a sizzling platter, and watch the heads turn as the meat wafts its way through the dining room to your table.

Sahm’s offers a number of specials and a Tuesday night pub quiz that’s worth checking out, best to show up early to grab a seat. Hold the phone — Sahm’s serves breakfast, too??? This is definitely something I need to explore…

For more information: 

Sahm’s Place


Sahm’s Place 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:




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