The Restaurant Sampler
The Artists Colony Inn
For the perfect dining experience, one must choose not only a fine place and excellent fare. Good company is important, and it is sometimes wise to invite just the right dining companion, someone with skills or knowledge specific to the occasion.
Accordingly, in preparation for a much-anticipated sojourn to the Artist’s Colony Inn with my attractive colleague, I chose as our companion the charming and highly knowledgeable professional art expert.
Thus forearmed, we made our way to the dining room of the 19th-Century-style Inn at the self-proclaimed “Best Location in Town” at the corner of Franklin and Van Buren Streets.
There’s more than good food here; paintings cover nearly every wall space in the dining room/gallery. The wooden floors and furnishings, large stone fireplace and beamed ceilings help suggest a slower and quieter time. From over the fireplace is a wonderful, large, dark-as-night portrait of the great Hoosier humorist Kin Hubbard by Wayman Adams
Across the dining room is a smaller but brighter portrait of one of the legendary matriarchs of Brown County art, Ada Shulz, “…painted by someone who liked her…” by which I assume means it’s a flattering rendering.
Over in the corner beside the stone fireplace are a nice colored L.O. Griffith print and a Will Vawter pencil drawing. There are, mysteriously, two portraits of the same young man by Marian Williams Steele, and a couple of beautiful, large, Brown County landscapes by Ken Gore. Much of the space is devoted to the work of resident artist emeritus and Brown County art legend Fred Rigley.
Fred’s daughter, Ellen, and her husband Jay Carter are the creators and owners of the inn and well-known collectors and appraisers of Brown County and Indiana paintings. “He has a great eye and is very much sought after for his appraisals” according to my expert.
I am attracted to one appetizer item above all others on the sprawling Artist’s Colony menu. Sun Fries are deep-fried, thinly sliced sweet potatoes served with a brown sugar sauce. Be careful, they seem to be addictive.
Homemade soups include the house specialty Baked Four-Onion Soup and a Hearty Chili topped with cheese, onions, tomatoes and served with tortilla chips.
My Attractive Colleague had pre-empted my standard favorite, the Marie’s Fettuccini, a nice plate of pasta with broccoli florets, peas, carrots and grilled artichoke hearts (yummy!) tossed in a light cream sauce with a measured touch of garlic.
The Charming and Knowledgeable Art Expert had the Vegetarian Lasagna, and insisted that I sample it, which I eagerly did, pausing for only the briefest second to see if she would actually feed me with her own hand. It was one of those disheartening restaurant epiphanies when one suddenly realizes what one should have ordered. The Lasagna was fantastic; three cheeses and garden vegetables freshly baked with a tangy marinara sauce. The flavors were well balanced and it was juicy and soul filling.
I wanted to order the Glen’s Tuna and Spinach Salad, just because I was so proud of myself for knowing a little bit about Glen Cooper Henshaw, a somewhat miss-fitting participant in Brown County’s art history. The art expert was suitably impressed, and opined that it is darned well time for a major Henshaw exhibition/retrospective that deserves to get some serious attention.
However, I wasn’t in the mood for the tuna spinach salad. I had the very nice house salad with a wonderful Raspberry Vinaigrette. Then, the Lucie’s Pot Pie, a deep dish of tender chicken and garden vegetables simmered in a creamy sauce and topped with a little chunk of pastry in the shape of a chicken that perfectly poised between being a biscuit and a crust. It was tasty, filling and sentimental, and satisfying to the last bite.
On other visits to the Artists Colony Inn, I have sampled the Dale Bessire’s Catfish Dinner and Jack’s Chicken with happy approval. My companions also testified positively for the Steele’s Stir-Fry and Adolph’s Country-Style Meatloaf Dinner. The entire entrée selection, ranges in price from about $9 to about $15.
Also available from the Chargrill: Smoked grilled porkchops, grilled tuna, salmon and a certified premium Black Angus rib eye or fillet. The Artist’s Colony Inn features a very complete sandwich menu—14 choices including a meatloaf sandwich and two vegetarian options—all in the $7 range.
There are also five very winning salads, including the restaurant’s signature Vawter’s Strawberry Spinach Salad (in season). While my fair companions demurred, I could not restrain myself from the dessert menu, which included apple crisp, assorted cobblers and cakes, including June’s Chocolate Sheetcake. But I could not rise above my own pedestrian needs and desires, and ordered the cheesecake and a cup of coffee, and was a peculiarly and surpassingly satisfied man.
The life of a restaurant scout is not for the weak of heart. Great wealth is not to be had, nor are fame or adulation likely to befall you. But there are few satisfactions in life to compare with this; having shared at leisure a fine meal with amiable and intelligent companions steeping in the fair canvas fruit of the artist’s colony, to relax between these fair flowers, amid the peace of the wood and stone and soft, warm light, and to have a good piece of cheesecake and a good cup of coffee.
What more does one require?