Wednesday, August 12, 2009

eG Heartland Gathering: The Foodie, or There and Back Again

After my simply amazing brunch experience at Crum Farm, I knew it was time to return home. While I was able to drive the twelve hours straight through to Kansas City on Friday night, I realized repeating that feat on my way back would have me arriving in Akron around 3 AM. Had I been 25 years-old and making this trip, I perhaps would've considered doing this. However, I am not 25 years-old and decided to live within the limitations of my body. Looking at the map, I realized that Terre Haute, IN was exactly half-way between Kansas City and Akron. Thinking ahead, I managed to snag a cheap hotel room at the Knight's Inn with free wi-fi access for $35 if I pre-paid for it. Clearly a no brainer.

When I finally reached Terre Haute, I was sad to discover two things. First, while the Knights Inn that I stayed at did indeed have free wi-fi, it wasn't working. I was hoping to get all of my photos processed and uploaded to the Internet on my Sunday evening stay as well as catch up on the Kansas City reporting thread on eGullet. Alas, neither were possible. The second thing I discovered was that Terre Haute, at least the part immediately accessible off of I-70, was a epicurean wasteland consisting of every national chain restaurant known to mankind. Although I was hungry, I almost felt like it was my duty after having eaten two amazing meals during the gathering to find something that could be passed off as homemade or local.

After getting my laptop and bags settled into my room, I hopped in the car and started driving. After several miles of nothing but chains, I finally spotted a local grocery store, Kroger, and decided that if I couldn't find someplace local to eat, perhaps I could just pick up some items from the store and make it myself. Deciding that the easiest thing to fix for myself would be some sandwiches, I picked up my ingredients, a styrofoam cooler and a bag of ice and headed back to my room.

Here is a shot of my makeshift "fridge":

While I thought I would be subject to all sorts of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils in my bread, I actually managed to locate a loaf of whole wheat bread made by a local Terre Haute bakery, Spring Mill Bread Company:

As it turns out, the location for the bakery was just around the corner from my hotel! Oh, man, things were looking a little better now for Terre Haute. I decided that the following morning I would stop in and check out the operations at Spring Mill.

And finally, a shot of the inside of my fridge:

You have some roasted chicken deli slices (which actually tasted like chicken for once), the smallest jar of mayonnaise I could find, slices of Swiss cheese and one quart of milk for my breakfast the next morning.

Hungry from my trip, I put together my sandwiches in my makeshift kitchen (i.e., the small round table in my hotel room):

All things being equal, these weren't too bad. Even with the bread, they were several steps below what I had eaten earlier in the day, but I'm still glad I had this for my supper rather than Taco Bell. It felt more in-line with the spirit of the weekend I had just experienced.

The next morning, I had an impromptu breakfast of the wonderful granola that was handed out as a parting gift at Crum Farm served with a bit of milk I had bought the previous night at Kroger:

And while the milk wasn't really anything special, the granola was fantastic! The crunch of the almonds, the sweetness from the honey, and the heady aroma from the spices really made this a memorable breakfast despite the obvious confines of my small room. After finishing up my breakfast, I packed everything back into my car, checked out of the hotel and drove down the road until I found the bakery:

Here are a couple shots of the interior as taken through the front window:

Seeing as it was only 10 AM when I got here and there wasn't a soul to be found inside, I was a bit confused until I saw this sign:

It turns out they were closed for business on Sundays and Mondays. Damn! Always my luck, I suppose. My hopes for an in-depth review of Spring Mill's bakery now dashed, I returned to my car and headed back to the I-70 eastbound entry ramp.

Prior to reaching Indianapolis, I realized that I would be traveling through Columbus around 2 PM or so. On a whim, I called an old childhood friend of mine who happens to live in Columbus to see if she'd be available for a late lunch. To my great surprise, she was able to fit me in. Having not had a Mary Kelley's patty melt in quite some time, I suggested this Dublin, OH eatery as our meeting point. I have long considered their patty melt as the version upon which I judge all others.

Arriving almost precisely at 2:15 PM, I pulled into the parking lot and walked up to the entrance of Mary Kelley's:

After settling into our table, I decided to take a shot of the placemat as it had some interesting history of the restaurant:

While the patty melt was still on the menu, I was disappointed to learn that some other favorites (namely the spinach salad with warm bacon dressing) were no longer available. I ordered my burger medium with a side of fries and after about fifteen minutes, I received this:

I don't know if I didn't read the menu in it's entirety or if it was omitted, but they had made my patty melt using pumpernickel instead of rye. This was not boding well for me. The fries were actually nice and crispy and seasoned well. The patty melt was ... well ... okay. It was actually overcooked and was closer to medium-well than medium. A side shot of the sandwich tells the whole story:

It wasn't a bad patty melt, per se. It just wasn't the amazing burger that I remembered it once was. I suppose that the only constant in life is change. Unfortunately, the change this time was in the negative. My companion's soup ended up being a little too sweet for her taste and her son's fruit cup was also off, so I'm not sure what the heck was going on today at Mary Kelley's. I'm not ready to write the restaurant off quite yet, but I'm having serious reservations recommending it to anyone else before I have a chance to return and re-evaluate the food.

Our lunch finally finished, I got back in the car and started on the final two hours of my journey from Terre Haute to Akron. Along the way I received a surprising email invitation. But that's fodder for my next post, so you'll just have to stay tuned.

Mary Kelley's on Urbanspoon  Mary Kellys on Restaurantica

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