When wintry winds blow, head for the farm,
one with comfort food on the menu
By CJ Woodring
» It’s winter in the heartland. And that calls for comfort food: mac ’n’ cheese; mashed potatoes and gravy; chicken (or beef) and noodles; super-duper stew.
It’s been suggested that comfort food evokes forgotten memories of home-cooked meals from scratch. And in Indiana, where denizens often endure long, cold winter days under bleak, sunless skies, comfort food cheers us up while also warming our bellies.
Farm restaurants, which continue to spring up throughout the Hoosier State, offer the best in comfort: farm-to-table offerings, often prepared and served fresh by restaurateurs who grew or produced the ingredients themselves.
So bundle up. Head for the nearest farm restaurant. And remind yourself of just how comforting food can be.
A southern Indiana classic
Opened in 2012 as The Butcher Shoppe, The Restaurant at Walhill Farm is described by owner Pete Hillenbrand as artisanal American. “Keeping it local and a farm-to-fork concept is really what I try to push in terms of branding,” he says.
It’s a concept embraced by diners who visit the 250-acre working farm, which includes nearly 200 acres of pasture and a 10-acre sustainably grown garden that provides much of the restaurant’s produce.
The compound also features Walhill’s Sulky Lodge, a converted chicken coop; The Barn, an event center; and a state-certified butcher shop.
Creative, seasonal menus feature garden-fresh produce, along with beef, pork and poultry raised on-site. Hillenbrand says comfort food includes chili, signature homemade soups, freshly baked bread, meatloaf, pork chops and hamburgers with various topping options.
“Our bacon-infused Walhill burger has been very popular for a long time,” he says. “It doesn’t necessarily have bacon on top but is a mixture of beef and pork from our grass-fed Black Angus cattle and heritage Berkshire hogs.”
If the farm doesn’t grow the ingredients, the restaurant outsources locally. This includes American wines, locally crafted beers and whiskey from Lucky 7 Distillery, an independently owned operation located on farm grounds.
Tentative winter plans include a wine pairing dinner and a distilled spirits dinner, most likely to be held in January and February.
More reasons to visit: Rural, historic setting. Live music by regional entertainers 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays. Optional stay at The Inn at Walhill Farm. Farm-produced meat and produce available at The Retail at Walhill. The Restaurant at Walhill Farm, 857 Six Pine Ranch Road, Batesville. (812) 934-2600; walhillfarm.com.
Starlight, star bright
The bright star in Starlight (est. pop. 900) is Joe Huber’s Family Farm & Restaurant, an eighth-generation enterprise known for Hoosier hospitality and homemade dishes. The eatery has continued to gain fans — and fame — since commentator Paul Harvey first mentioned it on his radio program, prompting a regional magazine to feature the Huber family.
Established in 1967 as a U-Pick-It Farm (green beans), the 300-acre farm primarily grows pumpkins and strawberries, along with vegetables for the restaurant, which opened in 1983. A Farm Market, Soda Pop Shoppe and Gift Shop are located on-site.
Terra Huber-Mahan, director of sales and marketing, says the family establishment is nationally renowned, drawing busloads of visitors from throughout the United States.
“You’re not going to find food as freshly prepared as ours, other than maybe your grandmother’s table,” she says. “It’s ‘real food,’ homemade and from scratch, and we serve lots of comfort food.”
Bonnie Huber’s original recipes provide comfort in the form of fried biscuits smothered with the restaurant’s signature apple butter; fried chicken; chicken and dumplings; cobblers and pies; mashed potatoes and gravy; and Huber honey ham.
The popular country platter dinner will be offered throughout December, when delivery and catering services are popular.
“We all take pride in our business, and it definitely has charm,” Huber-Mahan says. “We are truly unique as a family-owned-and-operated restaurant for more than 30 years.”
More reasons to visit: Beautiful drive to country setting. Seasonal children’s activities. Farm market with wide selection of fresh fruits and veggies. Joe Huber’s Family Farm & Restaurant, 2421 Engle Road, Starlight. (812) 923-5255; joehubers.com.
Small town, world-class dining
Joseph Decuis restaurant isn’t exactly farm-based, but it’s close enough. Owners Pete, Alice and Tim Eshelman live on and work the land at nearby Joseph Decuis Wagyu Farm, which produces vegetables, herbs, free-range hens, Kobe-style Wagyu beef and Mangalitsa pork, all menu features.
Located in a former bank building and opened in 2000, Joseph Decuis is considered one of the only restaurants in the United States raising — and serving — its own Wagyu beef. Traditional Japanese husbandry ensures it is 100 percent USDA “prime” grade.
Alice Eshelman says the restaurant’s version of comfort food includes wonderful soups and homemade Wagyu Bolognese, a marriage of Wagyu and Mangalitsa in a tomato sauce served over potato gnocchi. “It’s a hearty, stick-to-your ribs dish, and definitely bumped up a notch with the quality of beef,” she explains. Top the meal off with toasted almond-mocha crème brûlée.
Reserve a table in The Club, a sunny room with dark paneling, to cure any wintertime blues, or consider The Conservatory, where guests remain warm and cozy while watching the snow fall.
More reasons to visit: Quiet, intimate atmosphere. A chance to dine at one of Indiana’s most honored restaurants. On-site Emporium featuring the farm’s signature foods, fine wines and select cuts of Wagyu beef. Historic downtown setting with eclectic shops and boutiques. Optional stay at the downtown Inn at Joseph Decuis or at the Joseph Decuis Farmstead Inn, a restored 1884 farmhouse located six miles from the restaurant. Joseph Decuis, 191 N. Main St., Roanoke. (260) 672-1715; josephdecuis.com.
It’s always Fair (Oaks) weather
Established solely as a farm in 1996, Fair Oaks Farms has emerged as an enterprise that includes the Farmhouse Restaurant and Conference Center, opened in 2014. Owned by local business operators, including five dairies, the farm sprawls across 25,000 acres, offering not only sustenance but an educational, back-to-nature setting for all ages.
Winter dining in the 265-seat rustic restaurant centers on a huge stone fireplace, reason enough to cozy up and settle in for a spell. Eighty percent of menu ingredients on the rotational, seasonal menu are grown on-site or by local growers; the farm also supplies dairy, pork and beef items.
Restaurant general manager Richard Arthur says comfort begins with a bacon maple appetizer (“The bacon is made from pork belly from the farm’s pigs,” he says.) and extends through the chocolate frenzy brownie.
Arthur also suggests fried chicken, chicken pot pie, pot roast or ribs: “Some of the best ribs I’ve had,” he adds.
For guests 21 and older, reserve a spot in the Chef’s Dining Room, where a glass-enclosed kitchen allows diners to view food preparation.
Other reasons to visit: Educational farm experience that includes dairy, pig and crop adventures, “Mooville” and the pork education center. The Farmhouse Market & Bakery, Cowfé and Gift Shop. The Farmhouse Restaurant at Fair Oaks Farms, 754 N. Road 600E, Fair Oaks. (219) 394-3663; fofarms.com/farmhouse.com
Crème de la Creamery
In 2003 owners Jane Elder Kunz and Dr. Peter (Fritz) Kunz established Traders Point Creamery, an award-winning, working dairy farm that features a cheese creamery and farm store.
Aptly named for its location on the upper level of a restored 1860s barn, The Loft Restaurant began as a dairy bar about 2006, says communications manager Lauren Bobbitt, and it gradually developed into “a cornerstone of the kind of immersive farm-to-table experience we want to offer visitors.”
Rotating, seasonal menus pair farm-to-table dishes with organic, local and sustainable ingredients, many grown on the farm.
“There’s no comfort food more timeless than mac ’n’ cheese, and our version is made with grass-fed artisan cheeses, plus seasonal additions like bacon, roasted squash and peppers,” Bobbitt says, noting that comfort-style cooking techniques such as braising and roasting for beef, pork and chicken — often raised on-site — are employed this time of year.
The brunch menu also includes biscuits and gravy, featuring rosemary and Fleur de la Terre biscuits. The Loft’s French toast elevates banana bread to a new level and tops it off with a whipped fromage blanc, pear butter and candied pecan topping.
Other reasons to go: Farm atmosphere in remote, relaxed, rustic setting. Events, such as wine and beer dinners; local musicians Friday nights throughout the year. Self-guided farm/nature walk and private tour of the 150-acre farm, which showcases four antique barns. Fun times by the Patio Dairy Bar’s fire pit. The Loft Restaurant & Dairy Bar, Traders Point Creamery, 9101 Moore Road, Zionsville. (317) 733-1700; traderspointcreamery.com.