Indiana is filled with history and tradition. Whether it’s history on a national scale, whose tales are part of America’s story — Johnny Appleseed, or Tecumseh and General William Henry Harrison — or local tradition that has carried on from generation to generation — the Purdue-IU Oaken Bucket — we’re a state with a long and storied past.
I wanted to experience some of that history with my family, so we took a three day, two night trip to Tippecanoe County. As I looked over the itinerary and read up on some of the different places we would be visiting, nearly every place on the schedule was a First, or an Only, or a Notable.
The Hotel — Comfort Inn
We checked into the Executive Suite at the Comfort Inn right off I-65 at exit 172. Given the number of industries, manufacturing facilities, and company headquarters in the area, I wasn’t too surprised to find there was a hotel that could pull off not only an Executive Suite, but a Presidential Suite as well. This was a nice big room that usually sleeps two people semi-opulently (at least Indiana opulence), but we managed to fit five into the room. My two daughters slept out in the living room in the pull out sofa, while my son slept on the sofa cushions, and my wife and I had the king-sized bed in our own room that’s the size of a small hotel room.
After we arrived, my wife took the kids down to the pool to burn off some energy after the 80 minute car ride from home, and they played in the small pool. The deepest part is 4 feet deep, so if you have older kids, you can let them play without getting in over their head. They spent an hour down in the pool while I stayed in the room, using the free wifi, to get some work done so I could have a free weekend without anything hanging over my head.
We were also just down the road from the Lafayette/West Lafayette Visitors Center, who arranged the entire trip for us (special thanks to Ashley Gregory and Jo Wilson Wade for putting the entire trip together). If you’re coming to Lafayette/West Lafayette for a visit, I recommend you stop by there for any recommendations, information, or answers to questions you may have. Go east (turn right as you’re heading north from Indianapolis), and turn left on Frontage Road.
Dinner — Bruno’s Pizza and Big O’s Sports
Bruno’s is a piece of West Lafayette history, having occupied dotted its landscape since 1955. Just down the road from the Triple XXX Family Restaurant, and just across the Wabash River from Downtown Lafayette. Bruno’s has been around for so long, they’ve got Purdue sports memorabilia, most of which they were around for at the time.
There are photos of teams and famous players from the ’30s, the ’50s, the ’80s, all the way up through the obligatory signed photo of Drew Brees, who played quarterback at Purdue from 1997 – 2000, as well as other notable NFL players like Mark Herrmann and Kyle Orton. The decor even carries into the men’s room, where you can see framed programs from football games going all the way back to 1929, from games against Ohio State, Minnesota, and Notre Dame.
While I’ve never been a big Purdue football fan, I sat in Bruno’s, wishing I had stronger ties to the place, so I could start rooting for the football team more honestly. So instead, I soothed my conscience with some of the fabulous food that Bruno’s offers.
First up, Bruno’s Dough Balls and Cheddar Cheese Balls. Sara at Visit Lafayette/ West Lafayette swore up and down that the Cheddar Cheese Balls were the best, but every online review I had read about Bruno’s raved about the Dough Balls. They’re so ingrained into Bruno’s identity, that even his Twitter and Facebook, and web address — @BrunoDough, facebook.com/brunodough, and BrunoDough.com — are all about the Dough Balls.
And while, yes, the Cheddar Cheese Balls were great, they were a second to the Dough Balls. In fact, if you put the Cheddar Cheese Balls in any other restaurant, they would be the top appetizer. But it’s like the Colts’ years when Reggie Wayne played second receiver to Marvin Harrison. Reggie was good enough to have been the primary receiver for any other team, but when Marvin was playing, he was definitely second. So it goes for the Cheddar Cheese Balls. They are the Reggie Wayne of Bruno’s.
Later, as I was talking to Orlando, Bruno Senior’s son, he said they’ll sell 250 – 300 orders of Dough Balls on a single football weekend. And that doesn’t include orders he’s sold off in the after hours to college students heading home from a late night of partying. People go crazy for those Dough Balls, and I can’t blame them.
I love anything pumpkin, and so I tried the pumpkin soup instead of the salad. Loved it! Its subtle pumpkin flavors reminded me why I love Indiana in the fall. And I especially liked that it wasn’t an overwhelming pumpkin flavor. Too many other pumpkin soups go for a slightly salted pumpkin pie, turning the pumpkin flavor into a caricature of itself. Bruno’s pumpkin soup was the real deal.
Alright, alright, everyone told us we had to have the pizza, but we balked. We nearly did, but we knew we would be having pizza the following night at Arni’s, so we thought we would try something else. Bruno’s is also known for its Italian food, and we’re all fans of Italian, so we went for that instead.
Soon, my lasagna came — everyone else had the veal parmesan, chicken cordon bleu, seafood ravioli, and a meatball sub — and we all declared our food delicious and filling. The cheese on my lasagna was cooked until it was a golden brown, with little dark brown spots on it, which I truly love. And my youngest daughter’s seafood ravioli was perfect. I have never had seafood ravioli, but the next time I’m at Bruno’s, that’s what I’m getting. After I have the pizza.
None of us could finish our entree, although my 9-year-old son gave his sub the old college try. But we all made room for a single piece of pumpkin cheesecake, split five ways. This was heaven. I love cheesecake, and I love pumpkin, and this was the best of both worlds. While we weren’t quite stuffed to the gills, the cheesecake was just the right amount that saw us tottering out to the car, on to our next event.
Everything at Bruno’s is made there on the premises, not boiled in a bag, and it was delicious and authentic. While Bruno Senior may have come from Switzerland, the food was pure Italian. And I’ve eaten in a lot of Italian restaurants, and found Bruno’s to be outstanding. I may make the trip back up there just for the food. Or at least the Dough Balls.
Wolf Howl at Wolf Park, Battle Ground Indiana
Bellies full, and in danger of falling into food comas, we drove northeast from West Lafayette to Battle Ground, Indiana (so-called because of the 1811 battle between General William Henry Harrison and Tecumseh at Prophet’s Town) to Wolf Park, which is exactly what it sounds like: a park for wolves. And it was the first of its kind in the entire country, and is still the biggest wolf preserve in the United States.
Wolf Park is a preserve and educational center dedicated to the understanding and education about grey wolves. We were going to hear an educational lecture outside the wolf pen, and even get to see some captive wolves they had their at Wolf Park.
We showed up a few minutes late, so we missed the opening remarks and the opening howl by the alpha female, Dharma. But as our guide talked and explained what they did at Wolf Park — studied captive wolves, socialized them to interact with their human caregivers, and helped in the reproduction and raising of pups — other wolves showed up and showed off.
A couple staff members entered the seven acre wolf pen and demonstrated the feeding of the wolves, as well as how they were able to get the wolves to climb up on a large fallen tree to pose. They taught the wolves to do this, explained the narrating guide, because occasionally the wolves will get a little more aggressive with their human handlers, and start to fight for dominance, the same way they might another wolf. But if the handler can get them to hop up on the log, the wolf will often forget to continue to behave aggressively.
Wolf Park serves primarily as an educational center so their captive wolves can, as they say on their website, “serve as ambassadors for their wild cousins, helping people to learn about and understand wolves so that we will all take better care of their relatives in the wild.” The Park also has two foxes, two coyotes, and nine bison. We didn’t get to see any of them, but we did hear the coyotes. (Did you know two coyotes can sound like a pack of 7 or 8 coyotes?)
We had a couple of times where we could howl as an audience, which would in turn, get the wolves and even the coyotes to howl in response. We were talking with the wolves, which was really quite the Dr. Doolittle moment for us.
It was especially cold during the talk, and none of us had planned well for the nighttime lecture. Other people were more than prepared us, wearing heavy coats and carrying blankets. We were all in sweatshirts and light coats, and we huddled together to keep warm. But the lecture only lasted for 45 minutes, and finally ended while we could still feel our legs.
But instead of racing to the gift shop to warm up, we stopped for another 10 minutes as four different wolves came up to the fence to pose for photos and look at all the humans who were looking back at them. One of the values of socializing the captive wolves, said the guide, is so they can easily be approached and examined by the scientists and staff at Wolf Park. But the benefit for the visitors is that the wolves won’t run away from their human guests. Wolves are afraid of humans, and will keep at least a half mile between you and it, if it can help it.
We stayed and tried to capture as many pictures as we could. But we assumed flash photography was not allowed, so many of the pictures were blurry and out of focus. What was breath taking to me was I was standing just three feet from one of the world’s most feared predators, and I wasn’t afraid.
Wolves are the stuff of scary legend in western Europe, and many superstitions surround them. But those superstitions were laid to rest that night as we got to learn about how wolves actually work, what they’re like, and what they prefer to do. While wolves may be off the endangered species list today, they’re still in danger, as they try to survive where humans are continually entering their world.
If you’re interested in taking photos of the wolves, there are two different types of photography seminars: a beginning one for the person who wants to learn how to use their new camera, and an advanced one for the photography expert who just wants to take pictures of the wolves. You’ll undergo some safety training, and actually be allowed into the park to take some pictures of these noble creatures.
Day 1 Wrap Up
People always think of Brown County and Nashville, Indiana when they think of fall in Indiana. But if you’re looking for color, a nip in the air, a crisp cold night, and the sounds and smells of the season, Tippecanoe County and the surrounding area have a lot to offer. There’s a lot of farmland, but there are acres and acres of woods that will rival any palette and autumnal art you’ll find in southern Indiana.
Photo credit: Erik Deckers