The next morning, I went off on my own, driving about two hours south and a little west to Henderson, KY, which is right across the Ohio River from Evansville, IN.
My companion for the next couple days would be author, historian and local food expert, Louis Hatchett, who some of you know from his reports on the Duncan Hines thread, Louis having written a biography of Mr. Hines.
I've given the backstory on our first stop on here before, but will rehash it to add context. I visited Louis and ate in the same region back in 2015. Henderson had been home to what was known as Bon Ton Chicken, which some on here consider to be the best fried chicken in the land. Unfortunately, Bon Ton Mini Mart went out of business months before my previous visit and the chicken wasn't available. We ate at Mr. D's https://roadfood.com/restaurants/mr-ds/
instead and I considered that to be the best fried chicken I've eaten until this trip. But at some point after I visited, another restaurant called Brown Bag Burgers obtained the recipe for Bon Ton Chicken and put it on their menu, renamed as Roadfood Fried Chicken (misspelled as Road Food on the menu). As far as food goes, that chicken was first and foremost on my mind when I found out we were going to visit our friends in Indiana. The time had finally arrived and I was hoping not to be disappointed. Louis had warned me that there had been times he had eaten there when it wasn't made the proper way.
It turned out there was no need to worry. Louis told me on the way to Brown Bag Burgers that the chicken was just fine when he had it recently. I thought it was a lot better than "just fine."
That's a small cheeseburger - wrapped in paper - next to a drumstick and thigh. We both asked for a small burger instead of sides with the chicken.
I ate the drum stick first, and my first bite was one of my great eating moments. Before I could experience any of the chicken's flavor, biting into the crust was a revalation. I have never bitten into crust that had that kind of almost brittle quality. The meat was incredibly soft. And there was spice, hot spice, but not too hot. Then I discovered that the two pieces weren't evenly seasoned (and/or brined?). The thigh was a lot hotter; very hot; but shy of painfully so. This was incredible fried chicken; clearly the best I've ever had by a wide margin (I've only had fried chicken in regions that are good at it a handful of times, but it was easy to tell this chicken was unbelievably good).
I also enjoyed the burger. The meat had a very nice flavor. And I have a weakness for flat or smashed burgers that I've detailed in the past.
They had several uncut meringue-topped pies on a counter, but for a change, I didn't order any. I knew I didn't have that long before my next major meal and I needed to save some appetite.
The Roadfood Chicken is obviously the fourth of the four items I had on the trip that topped my list. But I still had other highlights to come. They were just not quite at the level of those other four.
After leaving Brown Bag Burgers, we went past the former Bon Ton Mini Mart location before heading south for our next couple stops.
Our first stop south of Henderson was Bell's Drugs in Sebree, KY, for a freshly made orange ade. I had one when I was last in the area, but it was right on the way to our next meal stop and I'm always a sucker for a drug store counter.
That's Louis in the mirror above.
From Bell's, we moved on to our next meal stop, which was my one barbecue restaurant of the trip; Dave's Sticky Pig in Madisonville, KY. Louis told me about Dave's some months back in glowing terms, telling me I had to try their ribs. I had no problem with that.
I had baked beans and green beans with a quarter-rack of pork ribs. Both sides had loads of pork meat and were outstanding; definitely a cut above standard barbecue sides. Louis had green beans and potato salad with his quarter-rack.
My standard for pork ribs is Arthur Bryant's, from a couple years ago. These weren't quite in that league, but they were very good nonetheless. The meat was extremely soft and came off the bone easily, making it more practical to eat it with a fork. I didn't see the cherry wood out back until we were leaving and had trouble determining what kind of smoke it was while eating the ribs. I knew it didn't taste like hickory or oak, but I liked it.
I mentioned at the beginning of this report that the first half of the trip went better than the second half. I was basically at the halfway point or perhaps just slightly beyond it now. The first problem was that as good as the fried chicken was, the heat from it really got my sinuses going just as my cold was kicking into high gear. The next day or so was very uncomfortable. The only meal that was impacted was the first one of the following day. I generally sleep relatively late on these trips, have some juice and a little snack in the room for breakfast, then have two big meals and sometimes a third stop for something sweet during the course of the day. I have a small appetite by roadfood standards, but try to make each meal count for a lot.
Relatively close to the start of the trip, after discussing it online with Louis, I decided I wanted to drive to the Main Café in New Harmony, IN, for a mid to late morning breakfast with some pie. ( https://roadfood.com/restaurants/main-cafe/
But when the morning came, I was just too worn out from the cold, which kept me up much of the night, and felt the need to tell Louis I was going to get some more rest and skip the Main Café in favor of lunch somewhere closer to Henderson. The Main Café closes very early.
We settled on a burger place that Louis had told me about shortly before the trip. It's a mini chain with three locations in Evansville and Louis believed a few others spread out in other parts of the country.
Single cheeseburger, all-beef hot dog, vanilla shake and soda (my tray):
Louis had fries and skipped the shake:
While G.D. Ritzy's setting lacked the charm I expected to find at the Main Cafe, this was actually a high quality roadfood meal. I'd rate the burger just slightly lower than the one at Brown Bag Burgers, but it also had a nice flavor. And the hot dog was nice and firm, the way I like it. The vanilla shake was also well-done; neither too thick nor thin and with good flavor.
After we left Ritzy's, Louis took me a little ways north of Evansville to see a restaurant he had mentioned to me. It's set in the midst of nothing but cornfields.
We were also near the oldest restaurant in Indiana, which we stopped by for a look (they weren't open yet and it was too soon to eat a big meal again anyway). The Log Inn was initially a stagecoach stop. Lincoln ate there.
On our way back, Louis showed me the restaurant where we planned to eat dinner. It's in Evansville, just across the river from Henderson.
Notice Santa on the sign. They have a Santa theme.
A few hours later, we returned for dinner and found the parking lot still empty and this on the door:
This was right in the middle of that vacation period. There was no need for a reservation on a Tuesday, so we just assumed we could show up and eat.
Anyway, we had to quickly come up with an alternative for dinner. We briefly considered the Log Inn, but it was getting dark and we both have issues with driving at night (Louis can do it where he knows the area well and I can't do it at all). So we decided we needed to stay right in Evansville or Henderson and settled on one of the more popular places to get a steak in Evansville, which Louis said he sometimes takes people to; Smitty's Italian Steakhouse in downtown Evansville.
They also had Chicken Vesuvio and something spelled a little differently than Shrimp de Jonghe, but which appeared to be the same thing, on the menu. I considered the shrimp, but we both ordered a 12-ounce ribeye in their standard butter-seasoning. They came with bread and butter, salads, and a side. I had creamed spinach and Louis ordered peas, which he said always taste very fresh at Smitty's. I actually didn't like the spinach. It tasted like it had a lot of cheese in it. That's not how I prefer my creamed spinach.
The steak had a nice flavor. But I was still very disappointed about missing out on the House of Como. The photos of their steaks that I've seen really had me eager to eat there.
There was one major problem with Smitty's. Their scheduled closing time the night we were there was 10 p.m. We waited about 20 minutes for a table and it was loud when we first got there. There was a large party not too far away that was drawing most of our server's attention. When that party left, it was only about 8:15. We were still eating our meal. The staff of the restaurant went into full cleanup mode. There were people sweeping and clanking dishes as they cleared tables all around us for what seemed like a long time. It was just a very uncomfortable setting in which to be eating or even sitting and talking. Our server explained that much of the staff leaves early when it's not busy. I don't think that's a good excuse for putting customers in that situation.
That was the last of my meals before heading back in the direction of Bloomington the next day. There was talk of ice cream after dinner, but the cold was further eating into my appetite.
As much as I enjoyed my meal at G.D. Ritzy's, the planned day I had of the Main Café and the House of Como, which I thought would be among the trip highlights, completely fell through. Perhaps I'll make up for it on a later trip like I did with the Roadfood Chicken. I was as interested in the setting and appearance of the two places as much as the food; even more so with the Main Café. We don't have places like that around here. The photo on here reminds me a bit of Skeeter's in Wytheville, VA, albeit with different types of wall hangings.
I want to express my appreciation to Louis for being so generous with his time and knowledge on the local history and food scene; as well as turning me on to some great food.
post edited by phlmaestro - 2019/09/23 20:34:48