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When word got out in 2007 that the Steer-In diner—located at 10th Street and Emerson Avenue since the 1950s—was closing, it felt like a final, painful blow to whatever pride Eastsiders still clung to. “My son Casey came to me after we heard the news,” recalls Barbara Kehrer, 62, who grew up nearby in the Little Flower neighborhood and, as a high school student, used to cruise in for carhop service at the eatery. “He said, ‘Let’s buy the Steer-In. It’s been around forever. We should do something.’”
Kehrer and her husband, Charlie, 61, obliged, and the three of them spruced up the place. While the Steer-In retains the best of what made it a mainstay to begin with—retro diner digs, the famous Twin Steer double cheeseburger, crunchy coleslaw made from the same recipe since 1964—the Kehrers have taken the food program to new levels, with an emphasis on made-here preparation and a few tried-and-true family recipes. The best-known is probably the Beef and Noodles, hunks of tender chuck in a rich gravy achieved by roasting beef bones with mirepoix, Barbara confides—served over chewy from-scratch noodles. (After it aired on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, the Kehrers had to move the dish from weekly specials to the daily menu.) The hand-breaded Hoosier Tenderloin and onion rings are also popular standouts, as well as pork barbecue that’s smoked onsite. Flawlessly fried eggs and home-style taters and big, fluffy pancakes make ordering breakfast a safe bet any time of day.
But for many Eastsiders, what to love most about the Historic Steer-In (as it’s now called) is the fact that the dining room once again buzzes with a friendly mix of young Little Flower families, working people hungry for a home-cooked meal, and gnarled, long-time regulars drinking bottomless cups of coffee at the counter. It’s a last vestige of the way the east side use to be, when it was, more than just a side of town, a community.