Friday, January 02, 2009

Vital Roadtrips - 2009 - Part I

To Bloomington

The more I wear a hole in my Priceline account, the happier I make my wife. She never tires of the road. We returned last night from various parts in Kentucky and Indiana (and almost Tennessee), and I know her wanderlust already brews. So, before recounting our experiences finding a water driven mill and eating amongst the chains, outposts, and hotels of Kentucky, let me start working on our next trips. Over the next few weeks (I swear), I will lay out some prospective road trips for 2009. Highest on my list right now, is Bloomington, IN.

We visit the lands around us, especially for the food. It allows us to sample and obtain regional dishes and specialities unavailable in Chicago. I mean how many places remark, like the Mammoth Cave Hotel, "we're out of chicken, it''ll take 45 minutes for more." We can meet our products, such as at the various distilleries in Kentucky. On the other hand, away from Chicago, we find communities much more advanced on the locavore path, e.g., Madison, WI. But we pick up dried beans in Michigan and bourbon ball candy in Frankfort, KY. Local is always where we find it. Bloomington seems like it will met our needs (extremely).

Farmers and artisans working for consumers fill Southern Indiana. Just look at this guide (pdf). At least two chefs have gained notoriety using this bounty. Daniel Orr though brought fame with him to Bloomington. He's no shrinking violet! He chef'd New York's La Grenouille to three stars many years ago. Now, he's back home in Southern Indiana, with the multi-complexed FARMbloomington. Orr combines local food with his well-traveled backgrounds. The menus sound about right, but I can easily relate to the skepticism raised on this blog. How much of a rivalry does David Tallent have for Orr. He's been on the high-end, local Bloomington scene since 2003 at his namesake restaurant. Buzz around his place is generally better or at least more consistent (typical). If we tire of dueling resume'd chefs, I can follow the advice of one of my favorite bloggers, Virtual Farmgirl and have big steaks and Yugoslavian foods at Janko's Little Zagreb.

We would not be hot on the Bloomington trail without a farmer's market in site. Bloomington reportedly hosts the largest farmer's market in Indiana. It does not pack up in the winter either. If the market carries half as much stuff as it did last year, it will be worth it. In other markets, Bloomingfoods seems worth a visit and maybe Sahara; I mean besides local food, Sahara prepares over 30 varieties of olives, olives being one of my favorite exceptions or exemptions or whatever we call non-local food these days.

A local brew would be in order, and Uplands sounds OK.

Of course we would be hot on the trail of regional specialities that may or may not be around when we visit Southern Indiana. The genius who thought to fry biscuits worked at the Nashville House (so they say), but they are at other places now too. The will be maple sugar a-brewin' around the end of February (cf). A good and decent Indiana persimmon is only ready to eat when it gets so ripe if falls off the tree. There are gathered from lawns all around in the fall. Because the fresh product would have a shelf life of a half-a-day, it usually frozen, with little effect for pudding or ice cream use. If American persimmons are under appreciated, what about Indiana's hickory shagbark syrup used by Wolfgang Puck and Rick Bayless. And who would leave without finding a pork tenderloin? It may not be served in a gas station, but Gnaw Bone still serves a famous version.

Bloomington, high on the Vital Roadtrips for 2009


Virtual Farmgirl said...

You cannot go wrong with a tenderloin at Gnaw Bone. Delish. No doubt. There's also a Gnaw Bone Pale Ale (Oaken Barrel Brewery).

I'm jealous about your trip to FARMbloomington. Little Zagreb was OK, but it could put you in a carnivore coma.

Lots of wineries popping up in the area, but the so-so Oliver dominates.

There are some good grain mills and sourgum spots worthy of exploring.

VI said...

VF, you read me wrong, or (probably) I was not clear. Bloomington's a place I wanna go, not a place I've been.

Your post, however, has added to the Bloomington wanderlust.

Virtual Farmgirl said...

I got it. I was just seconding your wanderlust notes and highlighting a couple others worthy of exploring (or passing). I would pick FARMbloomington over Zagreb unless, like us, you have a group of 13, including 7 noisy kids. BUT...word is that if Chef Orr isn't present, the food is just so so.