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Who doesn’t love the food discoveries you make on the road? That little diner with the great pie, the off-the-beaten-path bistro with specials featuring local produce, that tiny chocolate factory that gives tours (and samples!)—those serendipitous delights are often the most-remembered parts of your travels. In the Hoosier state, enterprising foodies and tourism officials have banded together to map out trails devoted to specific dishes and food-centric attractions. You can use these guides to plan your own getaways, whether you prefer sweet treats or have a hankering for fried meat (really).
Chocolate Trail of Wayne County
Head to the Old National Road Welcome Center in Richmond, Indiana, northwest of Oxford, to pick up your official Chocolate Trail Passport. Don’t skip this step: Without the passport, you can’t get free samples! (Or the special discounts those participating merchants offer, known as Chocolate Bucks. ) Then blaze your own trail to the 10 stops throughout Richmond and Wayne County. Start in downtown Richmond, where two very sweet spots will whet your appetite. At Olympian Candies, they’ve been hand-dipping chocolates since James Chagares opened the doors in 1909. A few blocks away, Ghyslain Bistro serves up lunch and dinner amid the galleries, shops, and watering holes that make up the Depot District. The bistro’s deli cases are filled with gourmet treats, gelato, individual portions of artful desserts, and the artisanal hand-painted chocolates created by Québécois chef Ghyslain Maurais (to see where they’re made, head to Union City, about 45 minutes north of Richmond; tours aren’t part of the Chocolate Trail, but they are available by appointment Monday through Friday). Should you find your sweet tooth on overload, make sure your itinerary includes the Warm Glow Candle Company, right outside of Richmond. Visitors here can nab a goodie that won’t add a single calorie to your trip’s intake: a complementary chocolate-scented votive candle.
While the official list of Indiana emblems (state flower: peony; state bird: cardinal) doesn’t include a state food, plenty of Hoosiers and visitors alike are ready to hail the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich as the state’s unofficial edible representative. Pork tenderloin is so prevalent, in fact, that the state supports not one but two Tenderloin Trails (neither featuring Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington or Mr. Dave’s in Manchester, both profiled in a 2003 Gourmet story on the sandwich). Hamilton County, just north of Indianapolis, highlights 16 area restaurants on their trail, making it easy to add a tenderloin-fest to any trip to the Circle City. The Indiana Foodways Alliance exists to develop and promote the “local food culture of Indiana,” according to its website. Its trail highlights 18 different restaurants. Most of the spots are north of I-70 and east of I-65, but when you decide to embark, please don’t try to do all the stops in one weekend. Even if you did have enough hours in the day, there’s definitely not enough elastic in your waistband.
Hoosier Pie Trail
There’s a class of pie recipes known as “desperation” pies, so named because they use ingredients kept on hand in times when home cooks couldn’t get the typical fruit or nut fillings. They include such treats as vinegar pie, mock apple, and something called sugar cream pie, a mix of butter, sugar, flour, and cream that’s something like the transparent pies churned out at Magee’s Bakery in Maysville (except without the eggs). The recipe is thought to have evolved from either Quaker or Amish settlers in early 1800s Indiana, but no one really knows for sure. To get an introduction to this only-in-Indiana treat—and to sample more of the state’s pastries—map out the 12 stops along this Indiana Foodways Alliance trail. Sugar cream is just one of 32 varieties on offer at Mrs. Wick’s Pies in Winchester, north of Richmond. Fair warning: Hit Google Maps before you hit the road—Clay’s Family Restaurant, home of the Oops! Pie, a pecan-chocolate chip concoction, is in Fremont, about an hour and a half west of Toledo; Apple Hill Orchard and its fruit pies are in Bruceville, about two and a half hours northwest of Louisville.
For a whole other kind of pie, tackle this trail, also from Indiana Foodways Alliance. With six spots spread across the state, it’s not something you could feasibly do in a day, but you could start with a Purdue–themed weekend. (Perhaps December 10, so you can catch Purdue on the hardwood with Eastern Michigan?) At Bruno’s, in West Lafayette, pizza shares the menu with Swiss fare that Cincinnatians would call German: veal gschnetzlets (slices of veal tenderloin), wienerschnitzel, knackwurst, and sauerkraut. Dine in the Big O Sports Room, decorated with plenty of Boilermaker and other local sports memorabilia, then cross the Wabash River into Lafayette and visit Arni’s at Market Square. The menu here is more traditionally pizza-centric, and the bar, dubbed The Loading Dock, features a semi truck and scales for, um, ambience.
Chocolate Trail of Wayne County
Hoosier Pie Trail
Originally published in the December 2011 issue.