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Story Inn: Middle of Nowhere, But Worth the Drive

Just when you feel completely lost in the Hoosier National Forest and are ready to curse the map, the road takes a sharp left and deposits you in Story, Indiana, home of this inn and not much else.

BACKROAD BISTRO

Just when you feel completely lost in the Hoosier National Forest and are ready to pull over and curse the map, the road takes a sharp left and deposits you in Story, Indiana, home of the Story Inn and not much else.

The tiny burg, a faded 1850s boomtown, occupies a narrow strip of land in the middle of nowhere between the National Forest and Brown County State Park. Story is under the guardianship of historic preservationist Rick Hofstetter, who teamed up with hospitality guru Frank Mueller to buy the town outright in 1998 to save it from being carved up and sold off. Now the entire village functions like an inn—cottages and cabins serve as guest rooms, and the restaurant is situated in Story’s old general store. The quaintness quotient is off the charts.

At the restaurant, the wooden floors are charmingly scuffed, the tables are lit with oil lamps and the shelves are still filled with ancient general-store whatnot. A warm vibe dominates thanks to kind and attentive service, and the waitstaff’s no-b.s., coffee-pots-in-hand approach belies an ability to riff on the well-appointed wine list or the hand-pounded tenderloin.

The Story Inn menu reaches ambitiously toward high cuisine, with a lineup including pan-seared duck, frenched veal chops, and pecan-encrusted lamb. Tiny loaves of housemade wheat bread with basil butter appear before dinner—in fact, everything on the menu is whipped up from scratch.

The results are flavorful if a bit on the heavy side; the brie en croute sports a rather dense and un-puffed pastry. What the menu lacks in subtlety, however, it makes up for in heart and intention, as is particularly evidenced by the stellar desserts. The menu changes nightly depending on what’s in season, and the blackberry cobbler, fluffy carrot cake, and apple-walnut pound cake with caramel sauce all arrive under a scoop of homemade vanilla-bean ice cream. Why go to fancified extremes when simplicity can be this good?

Notes From The Road: Take I-65 south to State Road 46, then head west on 46 to State Road 135 S (heads up, it’s a quick left). From here, you’ll travel about 10 miles on narrow, winding roads through some of Brown County’s prettiest countryside. Where 135 comes to a T, head right for 5 miles to Story. Note: Around the dinner hour, the deer come out in force, so drive with care. And if you’d rather not brave the country roads after dinner, it’s easy enough to spend the night at the Inn, where $108 gets you the Blue Lady room, said to be haunted by a pipe-smoking ghost. —Cara McDonald, 2004

DESTINATION DINNER

The tin exterior of the Story Inn rusted over long ago. Trees and ivy surrounding the restaurant might be charitably described as “overgrown.” And you can drive to the middle of nowhere in Southern Indiana and you’re still 5 miles from it. But the eatery “with one inconvenient location since 1851” makes a virtue of its faults. Its rustic charm draws diners for comfort food such as the tender beef filet with sweet-corn relish and a bone-in pork chop with pumpkin puree. Locally produced elk and bison occasionally make it onto the menu, and in summer the Story Salad sources fresh mixed greens from the Inn’s garden. Story also offers a surprisingly sophisticated, 50-plus–bottle wine list. If you spend the night (the 18 antique-bedecked rooms and cottages range from $99 to $239 per night), treat yourself to breakfast. The fluffy banana-walnut hotcakes call for a splash of Story’s housemade maple syrup, and the slightly blackened hash browns appeal more to the tastebuds than the eye. Like everything here, though, they’re not likely to change. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily (dinner reservations recommended). 6404 S. State Rd. 135, Story, 800-881-1183, storyinn.com. —Staff Report, 2010

TIP: It’s not officially on the Story Inn menu, but if you ask nicely, the chef might fix you the “Story Fries,” a savory blend of shredded potatoes, cheeses, and herbs served on a hot plate to share.

[4]BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS

You know about dinner at Story Inn. But locals say breakfast is the restaurant’s best-kept secret, and it is served well into the afternoon. In Story’s Eggs Benedict, for example, ham and homemade biscuits and gravy (maybe the best you’ve ever had) are topped with a poached locally raised egg and joined by a generous serving of hash browns. You can sip on a cup of locally roasted Brown County Coffee and survey the antique farm tools displayed on the wall while you wait for your made-from-scratch breakfast. And when it arrives, know that almost everything on the plate, from the seasoned ham to the maple syrup, came from a local farmer, says owner Richard Hofstetter. “If it’s harvested in Indiana, we’ll have it on the menu,” he says. —CJ Lotz, 2011

[5]EATER'S DIGEST

Why It’s Worth The Trip: The enchanted setting. Ghost town (complete with ghost) in the middle of a forest glen? Check. General store-turned-dining room? Check. Benny Goodman and Ella Fitzgerald playing in the background? Need you ask?

Who’s There: A table of 10 biker dudes scarfing strip steaks happily coexists with an elderly couple in Sunday best and matching boutonniere and corsage celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Sweet.

You Might Encounter: A wedding. The romantic inn often hosts small events in the barn and nearby mill.

While You’re There: Wander the grounds: an herb garden and barn in back, an old mill-turned-guest-house next door.

Menu Bests: Meat-centric dishes such as the lamb chop or the Fischer Farms pan-seared duck breast in a Grand Marnier marinade and plum barbecue sauce.

Don’t Leave Without Tasting: The apple-walnut pound cake.

Plan A Visit Around: On Fridays, waitress Susan Gray makes her famous county-fair carrot cake for dessert, and on Saturdays a string quartet plays.