Sorry you haven’t heard much from me lately. I am in the final stretch of getting research and writing done for Home Grown Indiana, the book Scott Hutcheson and I have coming out next year with IU Press. With all the racketing around and general panic, blogging has somehow fallen by the wayside.
I’ve probably said before, the book is a catalogue of local food producers in Indiana and the
restaurants that use local products in their cooking. There are all kinds of good finds out there –
in addition to wonderful local meat producers, dairies, vegetable farms, wineries,
and breweries, there are unexpected gems like a potato chip company in Tell City that uses local potatoes, a caviar company in Michigan City, and a local spring water company in Greene County .
Last night was Jerry’s birthday, so we set off to do a little book research in Terre Haute (don’t worry -- I have promised him a celebration of his choice, no doubt involving golf and single malt scotch, when the book is finished.) We were headed to a B&B on the outskirts of Terre Haute, on what used to be an 800 acre farm but is now down to a couple of acres surrounded by suburban development – just a graceful old farmhouse, a garden, and a refurbished barn.
Farm is owned by a woman whose name has appeared for some time on my membership
list for Slow Food Bloomington. Terre Haute doesn't have enough members yet to warrant its
own convivium, so Slow Food USA sends
Hallelujah! While Indiana is overflowing with producers of terrific food, there are probably no more than 6 or 7 restaurants statewide that are really, seriously committed to showcasing that good local food. Sure there are places that like to put Capriole goat cheese on the menu (who wouldn’t?) and who advertise salads of local greens, and it’s great that they do, but to go the extra mile of sourcing meat and dairy products locally, as well as fruit and vegetables, requires something more in the way of dedication to the cause of good taste.
So it was Button Woods at Sycamore Farm for dinner last night, and I crossed my fingers as we set off that it would be a birthday-worthy destination.
We got there in the late afternoon, with dinner reservations for 6:00 (they were expecting a party of 19 at 7:30 and we thought it would be good to beat the rush on the kitchen.) The old farmhouse (1860s vintage, but beautifully redone) is lovely; our room was charming, just redecorated, with cherry floors, our own shaded porch with wicker and sunny stripes, and the plushest bed I’ve slept on in many a day.
There are several dining rooms downstairs – including one cozy room with a fireplace for chilly evenings. On this sunny summer eve, however, we sat in a glassed-in room filled with evening light and a view of the patio and gazebo. The menu was enticing – lots of local as advertised, and some great sounding choices. They bill it as “brasserie style farm fresh cuisine,” and that seems to get it just right. The cooking isn’t fancy or fussy, but it is fresh and honest and delicious.
The chef is Kris Kraut, self taught and young, but very proficient. (You can see his cherry braised short ribs in this month’s Indianapolis Dine Magazine.) An intuitive cook, Kris creates his recipes and plans the menu around what the farmers have to offer, with a fierce dedication to cooking from scratch and a determination to cut no corners. (He is also, by the way, just two weeks married to the owner’s daughter, whom he has been dating since they were in the 7th grade!)
Kris’s menu changes weekly but to give you an idea, last night the first courses were chilled tomato buttermilk soup, cool and spicy, and a salad with gorgeous fresh berries, goat cheese and pistachios, in a cherry vinaigrette. Entrees were White Caps (delicate fish cakes made from Michigan white fish and pan fried) with lemon garlic aoli, yellow beans and cherry tomatoes, a Heartland Beef (grass finished!) filet with blueberry barbeque sauce, a Royer Farm leg of lamb, grilled, with red and yellow pepper relish and spiced basmati rice, pineapple chipotle chicken with grilled corn and cilantro butter, and grilled squash and roasted tomatoes in a creamy wine marinara sauce over pasta.
We had both first courses followed by a tiny scoop of citrus watermelon sorbet as an intermezzo, then the beef filet, which made my blueberry loving birthday boy very happy (and me too, since I got to eat some of his mashed potatoes – lemony, lumpy and really fabulous), the white caps, which were super, with perfectly seasoned beans, and for dessert a cherry combo (cherry sundae and a spectacular cobbler) and grilled peaches with custard sauce.
And the beauty of it was, when we were done, all we had to do was toddle up the stairs to our room, where our waiter shortly brought up a glass of port for Jerry, and a plate of walnuts with a candle blazing. Nice, discreet birthday wishes. Perfect!
About 12 hours later we toddled back down the stairs, to breakfast on good hot coffee, icy berry smoothies, and frittatas filled with vegetables. A very birthday-worthy destination, indeed!
Sycamore Farm Bed & Breakfast
5001 East Poplar Drive
Terre Haute, Indiana 4780
(There is also a renovated barn on site that will shortly be available for weddings and private parties.)