Foodies find their happy place in this small-town farm-to-fork spot that came to be when “a shaggy-haired chef from Florida’s Gulf Coast” fell in love with a country girl from Indiana. Blair and Cory Muro’s labor of love sits just off the town square in Valparaiso, a narrow dining room stocked with all the funky locavorian accoutrements: exposed brick, knotty wood floors, a decorative tree branch busting through the wall with a perched yellow finch, and a chalk-art pig-butchering diagram. Even the restrooms are marked “hens” and “roosters.” Young servers in jeans and country plaids bring out appetizer plates of tiny black-bean hummus tacos and melt-in-your-mouth pork-belly flatbread scattered with caramelized onions, roasted sweet tomatoes, and crispy-fat chunks of meat. Mains range from panko-crusted walleye resting on a Thai-style mound of sticky rice soaked in lemongrass–coconut milk broth to a local slab of ribeye, charred just so, on sliced discs of loaded twice-baked potato. Peek over the counter of the open kitchen at the back of the room, and you can watch the kitchen staff in their chef whites and baseball caps assemble the simple, delicious goods. Daily 4 p.m.–midnight. 55 Franklin St., Valparaiso, 219-531-8888, eatvalley.com
While in Valparaiso, check out ...
Valpo Velvet Shoppe: Ben and Jerry have nothing on this small pop-in that scoops around 60 flavors of ice cream, sherbet, and yogurt made from scratch on-site weekly. Blueberry cheesecake is always a hit, and seasonal treats include surprises like rhubarb and Licorice Lovers sundaes. 55 Monroe St., 219-464-4141, valpovelvet.com
Blackbird Cafe: The baristas pull every shot by hand at this cozy coffeehouse that also serves soups and sandwiches and bakes up fresh sweets daily (including some occasional surprises, like maple-bacon baklava and chocolate-banana scones with peanut-butter icing). 114 E. Lincolnway St., 219-548-2811, blackbirdcafevalparaiso.com
Strongbow Inn: Famous for its year-round Thanksgiving-style turkey dinners (as well as schnitzel and potpies), this iconic restaurant—on the site of a former turkey farm—has been a favorite since the 1930s, when it was a roadside sandwich stand. 2405 U.S. 30 E, 219-462-5121, strongbowinn.com
Designer Desserts: Oversized cupcakes, stuffed cookies (called Sugarbombs and Double Doozies here), and other forms of icing-stacked decadence are the order of the day at this darling bakery decked out in stripes and pinks. 56 W. Lincolnway St., 219-465-0008, designerdessertsbakery.com
Photos by Tony Valainis
This article appeared in the October 2013 issue. See more Destination Dinner stories here.