Road Trip: Garden Table Market in Salem

Small-town farm-to-fork dining gets a Caribbean accent.

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Garden Table Market (4522 S. Becks Mill Rd., Salem, 812-883-4545, open Saturdays and Sundays) is the type of backroads restaurant that’s best to find by serendipity when you’re twisting through Indiana farmland along naked country lanes. For miles, nothing but mailboxes and fencerows and honeysuckle and strangers waving from pickups. Then suddenly: an old general store with a lazy front porch. Screen doors and mismatched kitchen tables. Cobbler.

But there’s no time for serendipity now—Garden Table Market will wrap up its rookie year after Halloween as co-owners Joe Smith and Jennifer Valiulis return to St. Croix, their home for the last several years (he chefs; she’s a marine biologist). The couple weren’t sure exactly what their future held when they moved to Smith’s Southern Indiana hometown in 2013, but after enduring one of the worst winters in Indiana history, they ruled out blizzards. They plan to come back and reopen GTM in May, on Kentucky Derby weekend, a function of the restaurant’s proximity to Louisville as much as last winter’s fury.

In the meantime, GTM belongs on the short list of Indiana’s best destination dining, especially with fall-foliage rambles on the horizon. Smith’s family recently helped restore 206-year-old Beck’s Mill, which is up and running again (after more than 50 years dormant) in a bucolic setting catty-corner from the restaurant. He uses the facility’s grist in his corn muffins, a homey complement to the burgers and ribs coming off his smoker yet a 180 from the candied figs and Capriole Farms goat cheese that kicked off our meal. To Smith’s delight, locals have also embraced the “islandy” dishes he includes on the weekly changing menu. Whole tilapia, grilled, always disappears, he says. Thick mango vinaigrette on our grilled mahi mahi proved a bright contrast to the fish’s smokiness.

Caribbean flourishes come naturally for Smith after living in the Virgin Islands. It’s the ways of his homeland he has had to study. Befriending and sourcing from area farmers has been a smart approach, and judging by the likes of juicy campfire meatloaf, honey-cumin carrots, horseradish-and-thyme mashed sweet potatoes, and his mother’s peach cobbler recipe, rediscovering his roots might have been a matter of serendipity.

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