Indiana | A Small Town Girl in Hendricks County

Beasley's Orchard, Indiana

Over the last few months, I’ve spent time in a few of the great cities of the midwest – Chicago, Madison, and Indianapolis. As I work on adding more states to my list, it’s easier to visit the cities – especially if I’m flying solo – than it would be if I were traveling with others or taking a road trip. But the truth is, Illinois is not Chicago, Wisconsin is not Madison, and Indiana is not Indianapolis.

This June, in coordination with Bloghouse, I had the opportunity to visit rural Hendricks County, just outside of Indianapolis, which gave me a much better view of who the Hoosiers actually are. While the county has a lot more to see than in just one day (including the famous Lucas Oil Raceway for fans of car-racing), here’s what I got into during my time there, with help from Visit Hendricks County:

Oasis Diner

Oasis Diner in Plainfield, Indiana

The first stop of the day was Oasis Diner, run by a loquacious and passionate gentleman named Pedro. On historic Route 40, with dishes named after cities along the highway, Indiana license plates on the wall, lunchboxes from different decades, and photographs of the diner over the years, the past is not forgotten at Oasis Diner. In 1954, the diner was first brought from Signac, New Jersey along the train rails. When it was moved a few miles from its original spot in 2014, the new owners kept its charm by restoring the tiles, booths, and stools, and recreating the signs that had once made the diner stand out.

One of Oasis Diner’s specialties is their pork tenderloin, considered one of the top ten in the state – who knew Indiana was so serious about pork tenderloin? While I normally advise ordering specialties, I couldn’t imagine eating this dish at 9 in the morning. Another meal was calling to me, the special named after my birthplace {and the start of Route 40} Atlantic City. Even if I hadn’t been born there, I would have been drawn to the menu description: Thick cut brioche toast stuffed with cinnamon cream cheese and sliced strawberries, topped with powdered sugar and strawberry sauce. From my conversation with Pedro, I knew that the bread had been baked in the bakery underneath the diner. Oasis strives to do things as close to how they would have been done in the 1950s as possible. Some of the specials were more obviously tied to the city than others, so I asked about the idea behind the Atlantic City dish. I loved Pedro’s response: when determining what Atlantic City meant to him, Pedro thought about a good breakfast after staying up all night at the casinos and “summer sweetness”.

I would normally order a coffee at a diner – or, if I’m feeling crazy that day, hot chocolate with whipped cream – but I’d been told about Oasis Diner’s hand-crafted sodas. I couldn’t resist trying the Butterscotch Root Beer, which came in a frosted mug, smelled delicious, and reminded me of the Butterbeer I had in Harry Potter World many years ago. Pedro also brought out the Red Cream soda and “the Chef’s Special” – which he asked me to identify by taste. I failed, but as soon as he said, “Does it taste like an orange dreamsicle?” it hit me immediately.

The food is good, the portions large, and the historical charm intact, but to me, the main appeal of the diner seems to be Pedro himself, the staff, and the sense of community it holds. The way Pedro describes how he loves what he does would bring a smile to anyone’s face – especially that of another free spirit who also quit her job to do more of what she loved.

The stories flowed: A retired gentleman came in one day who used to work at the diner as a kid and asked if he could work there again just for a day or two. A couple held their 60th anniversary celebration at the diner since they’d had their first date there. Another couple held their 50th anniversary celebration there since the groom got cold feet the day of the wedding and headed to Oasis where a waitress talked him to his senses so that the wedding proceeded. This sense of community felt in Oasis Diner was a pattern that continued throughout the day.

Chateau Thomas Winery

Chateau Thomas Winery

I was surprised when we rolled up to Chateau Thomas Winery, surrounded by chain hotels in the middle of a parking lot. “How is there a winery in this spot?” I thought to myself. Turns out, Chateau Thomas came first, but now it’s a win-win for all parties. The winery is a part of the community here, too. Chateau Thomas works in conjunction with the nearby hotels hosting weddings, New Year’s Eve parties, and live concerts where people can drink all of the wine and saunter or stumble back to their rooms instead of getting in their cars.

Joy, Tasting Room Co-Manager, showed me around the winery behind the closed doors and gave a quick intro to how their wine is made, with nothing but grapes. Whether Joy is her given name or a name that people call her because of how much joy she brings to their lives is unclear to me. She was wonderful, as was the Banquet Coordinator Jessica.

After the tour, Joy asked if I would like a tasting. I said that I would, even though it was still quite early. The response I received and am now adopting as my mantra was, “Oh, honey, wine goes with Cheerios! It’s never too early!” I mentioned I was more fond of reds than white so I tried the Teroldego, the Primitivo, the Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Tempranillo. To sample a white, I also tried their Sauvignon Blanc. Joy then brought out some dark chocolate chips to accompany their vintage port. Though my sister and I had struggled with our port wine tasting in Portugal, this wine {perhaps because of the chocolate} was delicious.

I left with a bottle of the Teroldego because I hadn’t seen that variety of red anywhere before {though it’s possible I’m just not looking hard enough}, and my godparents and I enjoyed it later that evening.

Danville

Danville, Indiana mural

I often say that I’m a small town girl (living in a lonely world, who took the midnight train going anywhere), but Danville, Indiana has way more of a small-town vibe than my hometown in Jersey. I loved it.

Confection Delights

One of my favorite travel rules I made for myself (as mentioned in this recent post about Bratislava, Slovakia), is when walking by a chocolate shop in a new city or town to treat yourself to a piece or two. This time, I bought six chocolates to share with my godparents. The two I ate were a peanut butter truffle and a salted caramel covered in milk chocolate. As always when it comes to chocolate, I wish I’d purchased more.

Court House Grounds

While I didn’t have time for a cup of coffee at Court House Grounds, I loved the vibe in the few minutes I chatted with one of the owners, Tracy. If I lived in Danville, I’d be there with my computer three times a week. This shop is currently undergoing a major change, as noted by signs outdoors and indoors shouting, “The British are coming!” They’re transforming their theme and menu into a place where Anglophiles will feel at home, with high tea, scones, and specialty items like scotch eggs and shepherd’s pie.

Seize the Night

Seize the Night boutique is a place I could have done some damage if given more time. Luckily, Sarah’s designs are also available in her Etsy shop. Her handmade, customizable jewelry – from necklaces shaped like Tennessee to a keychain shaped like a pug with the words “pug life” on it – is all extremely affordable, though I naturally compare everything to New York City prices.

Hendricks County Historical Museum

I wasn’t sure what to expect in the Hendricks County Museum, but, once more, I was delighted by what I found. The museum is in the old sheriff’s home which is connected to the old jail. I don’t know why anyone would want to live in the same building as where prisoners were held, but I suppose it helped keep everyone in line. The house itself is kind of like the cutest antique shop you’ve ever been in, decorated with relics from the sheriffs and families who had lived there. Then walking through just a few doors, you find the complete opposite in the connected jail which is definitely not cute, but does provide the unique experience to be in a real-life jail cell and to read creepy messages left on the ceiling by prisoners, presumably with cigarette smoke.

And then, of course, there’s:

Mayberry Cafe

Mayberry Cafe

The shining (sheriff’s) star of Danville appears to be the Mayberry Cafe, an Andy-Griffith-themed-in-every-possible-way restaurant, with a Mayberry sheriff’s car parked out front. It’s kind of an odd theme, considering the show ended a generation before the restaurant was established, but the food holds up, so the restaurant should, too. While I would have naturally enjoyed a Full House-themed cafe more than a show I’ve only seen a few episodes of, I could get into it – especially when I was given a ticket from our waiter for not being able to clean my plate, a common plight for me. Aunt Bee’s Fried Chicken is one of Mayberry’s specialties and it was true comfort food. I imagine watching the Andy Griffith Show probably brings comfort to those who grew up with it, as Full House does for me.

Beasley’s Orchard

Beasley's Orchard, Indiana

My final stop in Hendricks County was Beasley’s Orchard. The main produce here is apples, and we are talking tons and tons and tons of apples in more varieties than you can name. Though they hadn’t quite started their apple production for the season, charming Jim took us around to show us the (quite ancient) machinery on which it’s all done. Beasley’s apple cider has been voted the best in Indiana, and while I haven’t had any other apple cider in the state, I have to agree.

In addition to apples, corn mazes, and other farm activities, there’s a specialty food market in the barn on the grounds of Beasley’s. Because I’m me, and it was a barn from the Civil War years, of course I asked if it was haunted. Jim confirmed that something was definitely going on there, as items have repeatedly flown off the shelves when just one person has been around. It’s certainly a place I wouldn’t want to be when it’s dark out, though they do perform weddings and hold other evening events.

While I wouldn’t want to be there at night, I definitely would return during the day – just as I would to all of the places I visited in Hendricks County.

—–

I truly loved my time out in Indiana exploring a bit more of the real midwest this summer.

What do you love about the midwest?

—–

xx

For more on Indiana, including posts from my fellow Bloghouse participants, visit this page.

Many thanks to Josh & the team from Visit Hendricks County for the wonderful day spent exploring. Bloghouse Indy sponsors were Visit Indy, Visit Indiana, and J.W. Marriott Indianapolis. Opinions are always my own. 

 

3 Responses

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s