Tastes as varied as the landscape simmer in south-central Indiana, with farm-to-table simplicity and kitchen virtuosity with every new hilltop and valley.
In Bloomington, start with breakfast at FarmBloomington, known for its farm-to-table approach to global flavors. Fresh, seasonal food also shines at dinner at David and Kristen Tallent’s top-notch Restaurant Tallent. Check out gourmet meals served in a mansion at Scholars Inn Gourmet Cafe or stop by The Trojan Horse Restaurant to savor Greek food in a casual setting. Just a quick drive north of town, Oliver Winery is a delightful spot for a picnic.
Heading east through rumpled Brown County landscape brings you to Nashville where you’ll find country cooking at The Nashville House and can kick back with a cool ale at Big Woods Brewing company. South of town is the Story Inn on Indiana 135, an old country store reborn as a high-end restaurant served by Cincinnati-trained chef Luke Perkins—as local as his fixings.
Head south on US-31 and east on Indiana 56 to Madison where farm-to-table cheeses and salamis beg to be washed down with Gale’s Hard Cider or fine wines from Thomas Family Winery, a former livery stable or Lanthier Winery, where sipping includes views of the Ohio River. New to the scene, the vibrant décor and fresh cooking of Crystal and Jules Upscale Dining.
Setting back north on Indiana 3 brings you within a wine-cork’s pop of Stream Cliff Herb Farm and Winery at Commiskey. Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan helped himself to fresh mounts here, but you’ll enjoy the wines and herbal recipes at Twigs and Sprigs tearoom.
Always surprising Columbus, at the north end of the loop, offers lavish confections at Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor, open since 1900 or pub food with a German twist at Power House Brewing. And newcomer Tre Bicchieri has plenty to offer, with sophisticated Italian cuisine sourced locally. It’s worth the drive.
From breakfast to dinner, inventive, seasonal, farm-to-table comfort foods star at this don’t-miss foodie destination.
Start breakfast or brunch with the restaurant's fourth-generation drop biscuits, served with chef Daniel Orr’s spiced apple butter. Next, opt for a simple platter of fresh fruit drizzled in lavender syrup, or splurge on a decadent Hoosier Benedict, a happy marriage of eggs Benedict and biscuits and gravy. At lunch, settle into the cozy cafe for light soups, salads and sandwiches. Afterward, shop the market for locally made products, including Orr's spice blends, sauces, dips and oils. For dinner, try a thin-crust "farm pie" pizza or entrees such as rosemary chicken and confit thigh, baby back ribs, or honey-and-miso-glazed salmon. Don’t miss the fantastic garlic fries, served in a big bowl and topped with Parmesan cheese and spicy chili flakes.
Husband-and-wife chefs David and Kristen Tallent impress with fine-dining twists on seasonal ingredients.
In a community known for excellent restaurants, this standout offers farm-to-table fine dining in an airy and modern setting. The menu changes seasonally—sometimes weekly—based on what's available from local farms. Start with a “snack” such as deviled eggs or chips with truffle dip, then choose from such first-course options as soup, salad or, in season, a creamy BLT risotto with fried green tomatoes and basil aioli. Entrees range from light fish and chicken dishes to heartier meat-and-potato preparations of steak and pork. Dessert offerings include fresh fruit tarts and toffee-topped banana pudding. Dinner for two is on the pricey side, but worth every penny. You’ll be talking about this meal for a long time.
Scholars Inn Gourmet Cafe and Wine Bar
Memorable dining from start to finish at this B&B-connected gourmet destination in Bloomington.
It’s great fun just visiting this imposing Civil War-Era mansion where bookish quotes set the literary tone for diners. But wait until you see the food! From an opening spread sampler of pumpkin hummus, Asiago ricotta dip and heirloom tomato tapenade with homemade sweet potato chips to a closing Bakehouse Granola Sundae laden with chocolate and caramel, fresh berries and the inn’s famous Bakehouse Granola (“It makes you happy!”) a meal here is like a page-turner that’s exhaustive but oh, so satisfying. The signature hand cut, aged angus filet is delicious in a pomegranate demiglace and a nice little subplot of jalapeño cheddar bread with tomato ginger spread is not to be missed.
Taste the good life at one of Indiana’s best-known wineries.
The options here are dizzying, and that’s without popping a single cork! With picnic tables, a wooded hillside and a good-size pond, picnickers and sippers enjoy the winery’s parklike setting. Art, wine supplies, chocolate and mementos pack the main tasting room where guests can create their own picnic with cheeses and other tasty options. But nothing should distract from bellying up to the bar where connoisseurs create their tasting experience from an expansive wine list. Beginners rely on helpful servers for guidance, moving from a light, elegant Pinot Grigio 2010 to a fruitier, oak-aged Creekbend Chardonel 2010 to a new bottling of Indiana’s bright, floral signature wine, a Creekbend Traminette 2011. (Creekbend labels are from grapes grown at Oliver’s nearby vineyard.) The sipping is excellent, so continue the experience by enjoying a bottle at home.
The Trojan Horse Restaurant
The delicious and authentic Greek food is almost legendary at this casual eatery on Bloomington’s square.
The mood is basic college town, casual and dark with high-backed wooden booths and I.U. athletics memorabilia. But the food is classic Greek. Regulars and alums keep coming back for the gyros—Super G or regular—savory combinations of cooked-on-site ground gyros meat (watch them cook and carve it in the front window), fresh onions, tomatoes and tangy Zaziki sauce. Native Greeks in town for school especially like the dolmas, an appetizer of grape leaves stuffed with rice, almonds and currants. Other faves include the moussaka dinner, a traditional meat sauce and eggplant casserole topped with custard, or lamb kabob with mushrooms, red peppers and onions over a bed of rice. Complete this food odyssey with a traditional Greek dessert like baklava or ambrosia (yogurt, walnuts and honey).
Enjoy leisurely, locally sourced, fine-dining-caliber meals in a casual, rustic setting.
A winding, 20-minute drive south of Nashville, the Story Inn is the only restaurant option for miles. But it's a good one! Rustic decor, fitting the country setting, sports oil lamps, a pot-bellied stove, old-fashioned wood furnishings, ceiling fans, and farm and logging implements along the walls. With just a dozen or so tables, the dining room is warm and cozy. An impressive wine and beer list, plus full bar service via the tavern downstairs, surprises. The dinner menu, details sumptuous, fresh and seasonal entrees such as coffee-dusted scallops wrapped in bacon in fig cream sauce over angel hair pasta, or an Angus filet with a sweet potato and basil-red pepper cream sauce. Smooth and delicious, the raspberry and dark chocolate parfait is a sweet ending.
Big Woods Brewing Company
Tap into hearty craft beers and delicious pub food at this brewhouse, restaurant and bar, strictly for the 21-and-older crowd.
In an alley off Main Street, Brown County’s only microbrewery is an easy walk to and from anywhere within Nashville’s quaint downtown area. The woodsy yet modern exterior features a roomy deck with patio seating; inside, a high beamed ceiling makes the place feel more spacious than it really is. Five signature craft beers are available on tap—sampling helps customers discover their pint of preference. Beer-friendly eats include a variety of sandwiches, pizzas, chili, nachos and wings. The Big Woods award-winning stout chili, spicy and packed with fresh-cut red onions, lives up to its name. For a tasty vegetarian option, try Emily's Garden pizza, with fresh tomatoes, spinach, olives and feta on a cracker-thin crust.
The Nashville House
Old-fashioned cooking and hospitality are part of the charm at this rustic 60-year-old Brown County landmark.
From The Nashville House’s folksy Old Country Store to the wood-paneled dining room’s sought-after fried biscuits and baked apple butter, the accent here is on old-time pleasures. Local flavor is showcased in entrees like country fried chicken or thin-sliced baked Hoosier ham (sides and fried biscuits—yes!—included). Settle back in the wooden captain’s chairs and take in the vintage hill-country atmosphere: tables covered in classic red-checked tablecloths, gleaming wooden walls lined with art from Nashville’s thriving community of artists, antiques, and rough-hewn wooden posts and beams.
Savor inventive Italian fare in the heartland at this upscale downtown Columbus eatery.
In Italian, tre bicchieri means three glasses, but there’s so much more on offer here than just the generous wine list. Tucked into a narrow, attractive Art Deco-theme storefront downtown, its locally sourced ingredients become high-end cuisine served in a style that is part small-town hominess, part surprising sophistication, like architecturally minded Columbus itself. The signature osso bucco, a braised veal shank with a smooth and subtly flavored roasted red pepper polenta, was delicious, though nearly rivaled by a walnut-crusted goat cheese served with tomato and fennel chutney. Parties of six or less might consider the traditional chef’s table, set back toward the kitchen.
This meticulously restored 1900s ice cream parlor is a perfect fit for architecture-rich Columbus.
This ice cream parlor and museum originally opened in 1900 as a candy shop. Now, some sandwiches and salads are available, but what really packs people into Zaharakos is the atmosphere and wonderful homemade ice cream. Mix and match eight flavors of ice cream with sauces (caramel, hot fudge, marshmallow, etc.) and toppings, including sprinkles, chocolate chips and nuts. Locals love the Green River soda and sloppy-Joe-inspired Gom Sandwich. Unique to Zaharakos is the 40-foot marble counter with a double soda fountain, the only working one of its kind in the country, and the original Welte pipe organ. Visitors can also see period pieces from old soda fountains and ice cream parlors displayed in the adjacent mini museum.
Power House Brewing
Look for traditional fare with a modern flair at the Power House Brewing Co./Columbus Bar.
The corner building went up in 1890 and has been known as the Columbus Bar (CB for short) since 1939. The food is comforting, delicious and well priced. Try the hand-breaded tenderloin, black bean burger, ahi tuna sandwich or famous Mile-High fish sandwich. The area's strong German heritage gets nods with menu options like kraut balls and Jager schnitzel.
Two small dining rooms, one for families, the other for adults, seat about 85. On the adult side, featuring an original horseshoe-shape bar, a small beer brewing setup occupies a corner, and owner and brewmaster Jon Myers will be happy to tell you about the several varieties produced.
Attractive gardens and an outdoor art gallery complement this historic property in downtown Madison.
The setting alone is worth a visit to this 1770s-era red stone building in downtown Madison. Sip wine and savor the commanding view of the Ohio River, just a half block away, or stroll through the French country garden area filled with interactive art displays, statuary and a small performance area. Choose from 16 wines year-round and three seasonal offerings. Sweet wines favored by Midwest patrons include Strawberry Blush, Mill Street Red and Blackberry Social. Drier tastes opt for the Rivertown Red, a gold-medal winner, or one of four dry white wines. An initial round of tastings is free.
Thomas Family Winery
Good cheer, good cheese and good wine are waiting to be uncorked at this Ohio River Winery.
A family tradition of wine and cider making—dating back three generations—continues at this renovated 1850s stable and carriage house, just blocks from the Ohio River. Church pews, bookshelves, a rustic bar and a live music area make it feel more like a friendly neighborhood tavern than a pure winery. Start the complimentary tasting with Gale’s Hard Cider, an homage to owner and vintner Steve Thomas’ grandfather. A richly colored Moscato-Barbera blend, Rosato 2010, is great sipping while playing table games, not to mention enjoying the Capriole Farmstead goat cheese, savory salami and Thomas’s own Gale’s Hard Cider Cheddar. When live music begins on most Saturday evenings—Celtic, bluegrass, Americana–an intense Sauvignon Blanc 2010 might help get toes tapping.
Crystal and Jules Upscale Dining
A newcomer to Madison’s vibrantly charming Main Street, Crystal and Jules is poised to sparkle and shine.
Bistro-style Crystal and Jules gourmet farm-to-table cuisine gives Madison's dining scene some healthy competition. Though Crystal and Jules’s upscale atmosphere gives off a ladies-who-lunch vibe, decor of gray with deep red accents and wrought-iron trim means men are just as comfortable. A well-priced $10 lunch deal includes a salad, pasta or wrap sandwich with side and drink. Pleasantly, there are no fries or chips: Choose from mashed potatoes, pasta, sweet potato puree, sauteed veggies, soup or salad. Steaks, pastas and seafood in a $15 to $20 range fill the dinner menu. Crystal and Jules is open Tuesday through Saturday.
Stream Cliff Herb Farm
Eat, sip a glass of wine and shop for plants at this historic, sixth-generation family farm.
Expect to leave with a satisfied stomach, a trunk full of plants and a bottle of Grandpa’s Blackberry wine after visiting this charming herb farm, restaurant and winery. The food: It’s worth the wait at the rustic Twigs and Springs Tea Room. Most salads are right from the garden. Try the Birdseed Pasta Salad, a crunchy mix of cauliflower, bacon and pasta with a sweet-tangy dressing. For dessert, Hummingbird Cake takes cream cheese frosting to a new level. Once the farm’s blacksmith shop, the cozy winery’s offerings include 20 varieties, from Golden Gallop, a dry Sauvignon Blanc, to Daisy’s Delight, a popular peach wine. The gardens: Paths wind through beautiful gardens inspired by quilt patterns. The country store: Pick up garden-theme gifts, plus perennials, annuals and herbs.