Getting to know a state through its foodie options is my idea of a perfect road trip! The Kid and I recently hit the road and headed west to check out some popular food offerings in Northern Indiana compliments of Indiana Foodways Alliance. They set up the itinerary, we plugged in the GPS- and traveled over, around, and through some well-known counties and some if-you-don’t-know-about-them-you-need-to-get-there immediately counties to taste test the best of the state. Not only did we have a delicious visit, we learned about our home state’s neighbor to the west. Curious? If you’re a food lover, you should be. Our first stop: Northeast to Shipshewana and South Bend.
I don’t know a ton about Indiana. Strike that: I didn’t know a ton about Indiana until I partnered with Indiana Foodways Alliance to road trip my way through the state. I’m not a complete doofus when it comes to it, though. Mr. Locke’s brother and his family live in Indianapolis and I’ve taken several Indy press tours so I know my way around the capital very well. But when it comes to the smaller, quainter, honest-to-goodness Midwest cities and towns in the state I had no idea about them. I’m inclined to think that many of us are like that. We know all about the big cities that dot the map but have blinders on when it comes to the smaller towns.
Not any more, my friends. I’m all about small town America. Each small town has a glorious story to tell through its residents, attractions- and food! The Kid and I were fascinated by the kindness and hospitality in each Indiana town and fell in love with foodie scene. Yes, even small Midwest towns have a foodie scene. You just have to know where to look.
Disclosure: I was hosted by Indiana Foodways Alliance, including CVBs and restaurants, to give you fine folks the scoop on what makes the foodie scene in Indiana so worthy of a visit. I was not asked to state a particular point of view and all opinions are my own!
I couldn’t think of South Bend, Indiana, without thinking of Notre Dame until we made a pit stop for a few hours in the pretty college town. Visiting on a rainy day, we didn’t get to the tour of the campus as I would have liked, but I did get to spy the Notre Dame Basilica through a well-kept line of maple trees and a pristine lawn. There are several restaurant options on campus that caters to college kids, but we were hoping for something a little more substantial and found it in Legends of Notre Dame.
I ordered the most delicious Chicken Peanut Noodle Salad and it was hearty, but not so filling I felt stuffed. It was topped with cilantro which gave it a super fresh taste and the additions including cabbage, carrots, snow peas, and crunchy peppers made the dish seem healthy as well. For starters, we tried its famous Warm Pretzel Sticks and I’m a huge fan of not only the soft pretzels but of the dipping sauces: three cheese and homemade Guinness Mustard.
Yes, the town thrives on the college scene but there are plenty of things to do and see even if you happen upon the city on a rainy day and can’t tour the campus. Our tour guide for the afternoon made a quick change of plans and we instead headed to The Oliver Mansion for a tour and glimpse into what prosperity could bring to wealthy families in the late 19th/early 20th Century.
The tour gave more than a glimpse into the life of J.D. Oliver, a super wealthy tycoon, and his 38-room family home. What’s truly fascinating is the fact that all of the decorations, furnishings, and art were original to the home. Our tour led us through three stories of exquisite design, intricately-carved wood, and my teen daughter would move in in a split second if she could.
After the mansion tour it was straight to South Bend Chocolate Factory for the funniest factory tour we’d ever had the pleasure of checking out. We learned all about the cocoa bean and how its nibs get transformed into delicious, creamy chocolate, all the while cracking up at the hilarious comments from our tour guide, “Hot Latte”. We were able to sample chocolate candies hot off the cooling racks and even dipped spoons into chocolate to take home as a souvenir.
The candy company’s versions of bonbons, chocolate-covered pretzels, and holiday candy were so delicious and they even offer a solid chocolate dino tooth. Yep, the owner has a fascination with all things dinosaur and came up with the clever creation to sell in the factory’s shop. Tours are Monday – Friday from 7:00 AM – 6:00 PM and Saturday from 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM and if you can’t make it South Bend soon, they do sell the chocolate in areas all across Indiana.
“You can’t get out backwards. Gotta go forwards to go back.” – Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
This is one of my favorite quotes and you’ll understand why I added it in a sec. You see, this Indiana foodie trip actually began at Shipshewana in Northwest Indiana. The city is mainly populated with Amish, so it makes sense that the food is all about homemade goodness- and pie! When we visited, the amount of Amish buggies being led by horses was fascinating and scary at the same time. I’m not a city slicker, but I’m not a country gal by any means, either. I’m somewhere in the happy middle in a suburb of Pittsburgh and rarely do we ever encounter a horse and buggy in the road. It took only a few minutes of acclimating myself to the city to realize that it’s because of the Amish community why the area is so well-loved.
Every person we talked to asked if we had eaten at Blue Gate Restaurant. Letting them know it was on the agenda, they then said we had to try the chicken and pie. What we really loved about Blue Gate Restaurant is the family-style meals. Family-style dinners include roast beef, meatloaf or smoked ham to accompany fried chicken as your entrees. Themeal also includes mashed potatoes, chicken dressing, gravy, vegetables, homemade bread and your choice of pie, bread pudding or ice cream and a beverage.
Of course we had to try the pie! Our server brought us a selection including the Indiana state pie, Sugar Cream. We all had a favorite (The Kid loved the Peach pie and I couldn’t get enough of the Sugar Cream), but, any way you slice it, there’s not a bad pie in the house.
And speaking of house, there’s more to Blue Gate than just its amazing food. The company has two theaters that feature country acts (Loretta Lynn has performed there. She’s on my concert bucket list.) and live musical shows that are super popular as well.
The Blue Gate Garden Inn is only two minutes down the road from the restaurant and is beautifully-decorated with old-fashioned touches including antique cars. The rooms are just lovely, the beds are super comfy, and the buffet-style breakfast each morning is the perfect way to begin a day of traveling. The hotel offers savings on concert and show packages- and its Premiere Package even throws in a carriage ride. Sad to say we were on a super tight schedule and visited when there wasn’t a show, but I’m so looking forward to a return trip when we can take one in.
Next week: Miami County and West Lafayette, Indiana!