Thanks so much to everyone who wrote to me about Gina, or commented on the last post. It’s been a hard week, but the memories are warm and sweet.
Last night we visited the Blue River Café, on the Blue River, in Milltown, Indiana. Until yesterday I wasn’t really aware of either river, or town, but today I am wiser, happier, and a good deal fatter.
The Café is a two-story white house on Main Street in Milltown, just past a pizza place and a canoe landing (with plenty of canoes to rent.) Downstairs houses a tiny, rustic bar and an airy, blue-accented dining room, upstairs are more tables and a stage for live music. Music is a big deal at the Café, as you can tell by the web site, but I am telling you, food is the biggest deal of all.
Chef Debbie Woods and her husband, bartender and English teacher Mark, own the place and have run it for 17 years. Woods got her training at Sullivan in Louisville,and boy is she good. This report is based on just one visit and there were only two of us and though I try mightily I can’t order everything on the menu, but what we had was great, and most of it came right from the Woods’ garden, from Churchill’s Farm Market down St. Rd. 64, or from another local farm. Kudos to Woods for that!!
There is a permanent menu of “standbys” – lots of sandwiches, including burgers, vegetarian options, and salads, and a weekly lunch and dinner menu that changes with what’s in season and fresh. The Woods used to sell produce from their farm to Louisville restaurants, and now they use it up themselves, and it shows! The weekly menu is available online – this week it included prime rib and ribeye steak, pan seared pork loin on pineapple with brown sugar and crushed red peppers, roasted rosemary, orange and honey chicken on apple almond rice, and several fish and vegetarian selections. Plus, a whole list of seasonal sides.
We started with soup – I had the sweet corn and cheddar chowder which was superb. The corn was just hours away from the farm, each kernel popping in my teeth with milky goodness, and the soup was chock full of it, with potatoes and red peppers -- creamy and luscious. Jer had the Tomato Basil Parmesan – rich, spicy and addictive. We swapped halfway through, then reclaimed our originals for a few parting bites. Great soup!
Then Jer ordered a burger. It was the flat, Midwestern version (not the fat NY burger, sorry Malcolm), but it was juicy and beefy and delicious, with melted cheese, sautéed mushrooms, and the reddest, freshest, ripest tomato I have ever seen on a hamburger. Those tomatoes are all over the Farmers Markets right now, but I guarantee that in 99% of the restaurants in Indiana in August, burgers are still garnished with an anemic slice of gas-ripened, store-bought tomato.
The burger platter came with coleslaw – just excellent if you like celery seed, and really tasty even if, like me, you don’t. The fries were advertised as hand-cut, and I was bummed to see that they were steak fries, which are usually too dry and flaky inside for my taste (too much potato, not enough fry.) These, however, were phenomenal. I can’t say for sure, but my guess is they began life as baked potatoes – they had a twice-cooked creaminess to them -- and they were sliced thin and fried crispy, so plenty of crunch as well as potato. Lovely, just lovely.
I had a pasta entrée, fettuccine with sautéed summer vegetables – caramelized onions and summer squash, red peppers, tomatoes and spinach. You can have it with a cream base or olive oil – I took the oil which was just right. For sides, for fun (and not because I needed them), I ordered sweet bicolor corn – right off the cob and stewed in a little butter, fried eggplant (cut in sticks, battered and fried) with roasted garlic aioli for dipping (rich, but yum), and sautéed squash with tomato basil vinaigrette.
This last was my most favorite thing (though since it was also a large part of the pasta sauce, that was my favorite thing too.) The green and yellow summer squash had been cut into sticks and sautéed hard in fruity olive oil so that it seared and sweetened, and it was topped with the vinaigrette, full of diced ripe tomatoes, chopped white onion, and sweet basil. It was the brilliant, sun-kissed taste of summer on a plate – so very perfect I almost cried.
(Jer tasted it and laughed because it is just exactly the kind of food I love to cook. Then he hesitated a little in a funny, apologetic way and his face got red, and he said that someday if I’ve passed away and he were to stumble on a dish like that, it would make him cry because it would remind him so much of me. So that really did make me cry. People who think that food is just fuel for our bodies? Yeah, right.)
We had no room for dessert, but for the sake of honest and comprehensive reporting, ordered some anyway. The crimson pie (if I remember correctly it was blueberries, strawberries, and maybe blackberries, something like that) a la mode was scrumptious, and the carrot cake was full of fruit and very good, but I was too stuffed to do it justice.
beer and wine list is also really good and the music filtering down the stairs
was lovely and fun. It took us a smidge
over an hour to get to the Blue River Café from Bloomington and the drive is
relaxing and country all the way – no interstate, no diesel, just lots of farms
and horses and cows and cornfields. Lovely, summer Indiana evening.
Blue River Café is open Thursday – Sunday for lunch and dinner 11 am-10 pm (with
brunch on Sunday and dinner served til 8:00.) Milltown is in the Eastern Time
zone, like Bloomington and Indy.
Blue River Café
128 Main Street
Milltown, Indiana 47145