Sometimes David Bower, the Pine Room Tavern’s GM and executive chef, has to give directions to city-dwelling callers. Left at the McDonald’s, again at the laundromat, park next to the Family Dollar store. Then he hears a pause at the other end of the line—doesn’t sound like the quaint rural setting they expect to ﬁnd in Nashville, Indiana. [Editor's note: The Pine Room has changed ownership and management since the original publication of this article.]
The strip-mall location has helped the Pine Room Tavern remain one of the area’s best-kept dining secrets, but, as the out-of- town inquiries suggest, word is getting out. Originally located in downtown Nashville, it moved to its current location in the 1980s. Bower, a protege of chef Matt O’Neill of Bloomington’s Runcible Spoon, came on board two years ago with the goal of adding some zing to the food-and-beverage program. He has succeeded: The 50-plus-year-old bar, long known for burgers and bikers, now serves dishes like orecchiette pasta with blue oyster mushrooms, or fennel and yellowtail confit with wasabi aioli, roasted ﬁngerling potatoes, and locally grown green beans. (And the restaurant does still make a heck of a burger—beef, bison, or veggie.) Nightly specials are a showcase for Bower’s culinary talent, with meat from Indiana vendors (beef and pork from Fischer Farms, duck from Maple Leaf Farms) and seasonal, farm-fresh produce.
Bower made changes slowly, adding craft beer, a few nice wines, and locally raised ingredients while keeping the knotty-pine wainscoting and barn-red walls. Still, some regulars revolted; one customer complained that the new place smelled too clean. “They loved it just the way it was,” Bower says. “I certainly wasn’t a popular person.” By the time he took out the pool tables and jukebox and banned smoking, some long-timers were long gone.
The staﬀ works to keep the more loyal customers happy, leaving out chicken stock for a vegetarian diner, for example, or having a 12-pack of Rolling Rock on hand for the one regular who prefers it. And as word spreads about the homey atmosphere and inventive cuisine, the restaurant is steadily replacing the regulars it lost—and then some; the cozy dining room is packed most weekend nights. Maybe it’s not such a big secret after all.
Lunch Tues.–Sat. and dinner Tues.–Sun. (reservations recommended). 51 E. Chestnut St. 812-988-0236, pineroomtavern.net.
This article appeared in the October 2011 issue.