Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Category: Food (page 3 of 8)

The Waysider – Bama’ Breakfast…



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The Little Zagreb – That’s a spicy meat-a-ball!

“Order the garlic rolls, the spicy meatballs and the petite filet.Don’t get the full size filet, it’s just not as good.Use a full pad of butter for each of the garlic rolls, and get sour cream with the spicy meatballs, you’ll need it.I know it sounds weird, but trust me.”

My recommendation to the Little Zagreb came with those precise directions courtesy of my friend, and loyal Hoosier alum, Gordon.While many folks might bristle at blindly following such a directive, I tend to be grateful for informed recommendations.When those recommendations include house made meatballs and tender slabs of beef, little additional persuasion is needed.I repeated Gordon’s words verbatim to Katie, the cheerful waitress, before she even got a chance to hand me the menu.She ratified my decisive selections and tottered into the kitchen, menu in hand.

Glancing around the interior, the Little Zagreb is simple and unadorned.Pine paneled walls display a handful of bright crimson Indiana banners, a few IU basketball team pictures and red and white checkered tablecloths tie the rest of the unpretentious décor together.My order arrived a few minutes later, full family sized portions plunked imposingly on the table.Katie snickered at all the food in front of me, sarcastically plopping a “to go” box on the table before I even started.She would later return that same box to waitress station, empty and defeated.Learning the hard way that my appetite is nothing to be trifled with…

The garlic rolls were bursting with salty garlic, and, in a subtle act of brilliance, had been toasted on the grill before serving, picking up a hint of charcoal flavor.The spicy meatballs lived up to their fiery reputation.A healthy dose of cayenne pepper was the only secret Katie was willing to reveal, but the heat kept me dunking them in sour cream and reaching for the water glass regularly.Finally the filet arrived, perfectly medium rare, tender, and gently seasoned to perfection.The steaks here are imparted with a robust charcoal flavor from the open flame grill, a technique that forms the elusive and prized crust on a properly charred steak.

It’s not a cheap meal, to be sure, and expect to pay full steak dinner prices.But Janko’s Little Zagreb is a place not to be missed in Bloomington, and if you find yourself there now, you won’t even need a menu…

Special thanks to Ken and Gordon for the insider tip on the Little Zagreb, in addition to a handful of other recommendations in Bloomington that I hope to visit next time around…

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Runcible Spoon – Irish Breakfast in Bloomington

Walking up to the Runcible Spoon on 6th Street in downtown Bloomington, it looks like any other house lining the side street.A simple cottage in a residential neighborhood, a perennial garden out front and a flagstone patio, the “Spoon” has occupied the same converted home since 1976.An Irishman greeted me inside the door with a warm “What kin I do fer’ ya?”Not exactly the greeting I was expecting to find in Bloomington, Indiana but it turns out the guy was the owner Matt O’Neill, who has resettled to the Midwest from the mother land. He guided me to a small open table beside the aromatic coffee bar in what used to be the kitchen.A quick inspection of the bathroom revealed a cast iron bathtub still in place, now filled to the brim with water and plants, having been repurposed as a fish tank.

After a long ride, I ordered up a massive breakfast.Inspired by the Irish roots, I opted for eggs benedict, adding in side orders of extra eggs, home fries and, true to form, corned beef hash.Despite the influx of homecoming weekend business, my order arrived quickly.The bennie’ was pretty straightforward diner fare; a bit disappointing because based on the ambience I expected a more artisan spin.Thankfully, the corned beef hash delivered.It was packed with tender, real chunks of salty corned beef, and a far more crafted version than its factory canned cousin.

Although satisfying, the Runcible Spoon really isn’t my regular cup of tea.It was a bit too bohemian (read hippy) for my taste.While the food is pretty good, it’s also quite pricey, and my hefty breakfast tallied well over 20 bucks.I’m still puzzled how some of the ragamuffins that traipsed in and out of the place could afford it.Many readers might appreciate a place with a few dozen kinds of home roasted, 100% organic, free trade coffees, delicately sipped in eclectic mugs.And if that’s your thing, you should visit.But in the kinds of joints that I frequent, there is only one kind of coffee; black coffee.It comes in a white mug, and, if you ask the surly waitress nicely enough you might get a pack of sugar and some tepid cream with it.Not that I drink that hideous liquid of course, but it highlights my point.

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Fat Shirley’s in South Bend – The end of an era…

The smell of grease and cigarettes hovers in the low yellowed ceilings like a fog. The galley counter is cramped, and patrons straddle spinning vinyl stools waiting. Stainless steel flashes behind the counter, a few corners covered with grime – looks like it’s been there for about twenty years. Who cares when the coffee is strong. Drunk chatter fills the air, interrupted by the sizzle of the grill, fatty strips of bacon popping away. Students slur clumsily about politics, turning green as they struggle to finish a midnight meal. The early old timers huddle around black coffees, jabbering on about local gossip, or such and such “dumb son of a bitch”.

Barb, the short order cook, goes about her work efficiently, turning only to holler at a couple of drunks getting mouthy with the young waitress. They assume their places, returning to silence. There’s a certain authority to a middle aged woman working the graveyard shift waving a greasy masons trowel. She goes back to her work, ladling butter onto the cooktop for the next order. Everything gets cooked in butter here; eggs, potatoes, even the bacon. It sits melted in a steel tray on the grill, refreshed every few minutes with another yellow brick.

My roommate and I watch our breakfasts being cooked, strips of bacon dancing away in the heavy handed butter. I ordered the “Truckers Special”; three eggs, toast, bacon and a pile of home fries. All of it cost four bucks. Paid for up front and in cash only, per the faded paint menu board posted bluntly above the grill. Probably the only place left in America you can get a full breakfast cooked to order, flip the cashier a five dollar bill, and leave with change. With the clock tilting towards 4AM we shuffle the 100 yards home from the diner, stripping on the porch before entering the tiny bungalow we’re renting. The stench of cigarettes and grease is so strong we don’t dare bring the clothes in the house, leaving them to air outside in the cool fall morning air.

Depending on who you talk to in South Bend, that iconic 24 hour diner was known as “Fat Shirley’s” to some, and the “Gag and Heave” to others. Officially, the name was the White House Restaurant, and stories like the above were the typical ending to weekend nights during my tenure in South Bend. I rubbed elbows with a few Notre Dame Football players there, and a truck once hit the building while I was eating. Once I was sure the rickety structure wasn’t coming down, I resumed the assault on my potatoes.

Unfortunately, however, the restaurant as I knew it closed down a couple years ago. After shutting the doors for a while, it has now been reopened as Jeannie’s House. It’s no longer 24 hours, the prices went up a bit, and there are a couple new faces in the room. Fresh pine paneling abounds inside, the ceiling is a crisp new white along with a myriad of updated cosmetics. The whole place it just feels – new. Different. You’re even allowed to use your cell phone now…

Trying to dredge up some memories, I trudged back in there on the Sunday morning after the game. While the glory in Notre Dame Stadium continues to fade, so to does the aura of Fat Shirley’s. Sure the food was fine at “Jeannie’s”, and still relatively cheap, so I have nothing to complain about. But it just didn’t feel the same anymore. Maybe I needed a few dozen beers to really appreciate it, or maybe some things are just better left to memory…

Rest in peace Fat Shirley’s.

(Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of the old place…)

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