Pigskin Pursuit

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

Tag: Indiana 2011

Indiana vs Northwestern – Fall bliss in Bloomington…


Filing out of the Runcible Spoon with a distended belly, it was, as they say, a great day for a good stretch of the legs.It was a pristine and crisp fall morning in Bloomington, one of the quintessential college towns in the country.I fell in line with the crimson herd shuffling along the sidewalk on Indiana Avenue for a leisurely stroll up to Memorial Stadium.The Halloween contingent was out in full festive force, many students garbed in garish and clichéd costumes, toting boxes of beer alongside.Predictably, a couple of bearded “Allen” from the Hangover characters passed by one another, chest bumping in their baby bjorns.

At the approach to Memorial Stadium a sea of lush grass parking lots open up, flooded with cars parked beneath the hardwood canopy overhead.Dotted with massive oaks and maples ablaze in full autumn splendor, tents and grills smoking away beneath, the Indiana tailgating scene in late October is magnificent.The picturesque fall backdrop was eerily reminiscent of the infamous Grove at Ole Miss, minus the opulence and Southern mannerisms of course.

Heading further east on 17th street towards Woodlawn, the tailgating scene takes on a decidedly more rowdy atmosphere.Thousands of students were jammed into a muddy field, packed in tighter than an all night rave, the ground littered with empty solo cups and aluminum cans.A handful of trucks were scattered haphazardly throughout the mob, loaded over the sideboards with beer, doors flung wide open with hip hop music bumping away.Naturally, the Bloomington cops were perched around the perimeter like eagles scanning for prey, glassing the riot for brawlers or the unruly.They had a gated tent set up nearby as ad hoc drunk tank, a couple of cherub faced undergrads sat handcuffed, whimpering dejectedly in metal folding chairs as they were processed.

I’ve seen a lot of tailgating in my travels, but nothing as dense and intense as this particular student scene at IU.With that level of raucousness, it’s no small wonder why most of them never make it into the stadium.

With game time approaching, I sauntered across the street and swooped up a quick ticket for twenty bucks.With the uninspiring IU vs Northwestern matchup, the scalpers put up little fuss at the negotiating table.As I walked past the west side of Memorial Stadium, displayed on the concrete stood a couple of WW2 era anti aircraft guns and a towering ship mast draped with Big 10 flags.It turns out the mainmast came from the decommissioned USS Indiana, a South Dakota class Battleship that served in the Pacific theater of the war, and now enshrines the football stadium.

Predictably, the game itself was a side note on the day.Similar to Kentucky, Indiana fans make it clear that basketball is the real season in Bloomington.The stadium barely filled up halfway, and I retreated back a row to spread out across a row of cushioned seats left unoccupied.The PA tried to pump some energy into the aloof crowd, belting out an exaggerated “First down Hoooooooooosiers” after Indiana moved the chains, punctuated by a brassy military band march straight out of the inspection scene from The Dirty Dozen.Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to will the Hoosiers to a victory on this day, in typical Big 10 doormat fashion they were drubbed by the Wildcats 59-38.

Interestingly, Indiana was the first venue I have been to that doesn’t have a tawdry school mascot dancing around on the sidelines.It was refreshing to see a school that doesn’t feel compelled to send a giant inflatable “Hoosier” costume fumbling away behind the bench.

Following the game, I took a leisurely stroll around the IU campus, reputed to be one of the more picturesque campuses in the Big 10.Decked out in resplendent fall color, the classic gothic architecture and iconic Indiana limestone are the standard for collegiate campus architecture.Football aside, Indiana University in the late fall is a magnificent place to visit, and Bloomington one of the all time great college towns.


Special thanks to my friends Gordon and Ken, both esteemed IU alums, for their excellent recommendations during my Bloomington experience.

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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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