Dig IN 2013

Sunday marked yet another Dig IN festival in White River State Park. But if festivalgoers suspected that more than 60 featured local restaurants, food trucks, breweries, and wineries would be resting on their laurels as this gourmet gala entered its fourth year, they needed only to peek behind the counters of participants to see all the chefs, line cooks, brewmasters, farmers, vintners, and other dedicated culinary professionals putting their all into making this a true showcase of what the Hoosier State has to offer our nation’s food scene.

They might have seen students of Ivy Tech Community College’s culinary-arts program carefully assembling the elements of chef Joseph Davey’s take on Latin American albondigas, meatballs in a light chicken broth with crispy tortilla chips. Or they might have seen chef Craig Baker of Westfield’s The Local Eatery and Pub sprinkling his nose-to-tail Gunthorp Farms pork torchon with a “Bloody Mary” dust made from 40 pounds of dehydrated local tomatoes mixed with dried horseradish. Maybe they would have learned about Tyner Pond, a new farm in Greenfield producing hormone- and antibiotic-free beef, chicken, and pork. Or they might have discovered that Albany, Indiana, is the home to Bell Aquaculture, the nation’s largest yellow perch farm.

Beyond getting a schooling on just what it takes to make Indiana a national culinary contender, most participants were happy to let their palates do the work for them, tasting everything from lamb reubens to duck gyros. This year’s highlights came from some usual suspects such as the light, colorful lentil salad topped with Fischer Farms brisket braised in Sun King Sunlight Cream Ale from Regina Mehallick at R Bistro, as well as the essence of summer produce in a caprese sandwich on focaccia from Napolese’s Tyler Herald, stacked with juicy, sweet tomatoes from Growing Places Indy. But some surprises came in the form of a thick cut of utterly crisp, luscious bacon atop white-cheddar grits from Valparaiso newcomer Valley Kitchen and Bar, as well as decadent duck confit spring rolls from J. Ford’s Black Angus in Terre Haute, served with a light “duck” sauce kicked up with pork belly and jalapeños. The spring rolls drew one of the longest lines, along with Joseph Decuis’s Wagyu beef sliders, this year dressed up with a decidedly rich bleu-cheese mousse and a light tomato jam by chef Aaron Butts of the Roanoke, Indiana, landmark.

Among the best uses of Indiana-made products was the peach-glazed brisket from Matt Kornmeyer’s Scratch Truck, braised with Spring Mill Indiana straight bourbon and served with two thick-cut homemade pickles, evidence that Indy’s food trucks can hold their own against some of its best restaurants. A simple chicken-salad lettuce wrap with flecks of salty pancetta came compliments of chef Miguel Cordero of The Northside Social. Definitely one of the more playful presentations came from The Smoking Goose’s Chris Eley in the form of “Goat on a Stick,” a goat summer-sausage lollipop with golden beets and spicy peach chutney. And Brandon Canfield, recently installed at The Loft Restaurant at Traders Point Creamery, brought his unique take on scrapple with his beef “pon haus,” made with beef raised at the creamery, atop a crisp snap pea fritter with a dollop of sweet rose hop and honey jam. In memory of chef Joseph Hewett, an inaugural participant who sadly passed away in May, the staff at his Franklin restaurant The Indigo Duck offered a homey, tangy rabbit sloppy Joe. Some of the more interesting beers on offer from local microbreweries included Black Swan’s complex cherrywood-smoked porter and Barley Island’s light, summery apricot wheat.

While crowds continued to stream through the main entrance to the festival along Washington Street, lines generally moved quickly, with many festivalgoers praising organizers for working to make the fest more pleasant and less an exercise in waiting. Longtime local foodies but first-time festivalgoers Scott Moshier and Nellie Gonzales Moshier were impressed by not just the innovation of the participating chefs but the variety of dishes. “We’ve been to most of these restaurants,” Scott Moshier said, “but we came to try out places we haven’t been to and to see what our favorite chefs could do with Indiana produce. We definitely weren’t disappointed.”

A graduate of IU’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, Terry Kirts hails from a town in Illinois so small it didn’t have a restaurant until he was in the 8th grade. Since 2000, he’s more than made up for the dearth of eateries in his childhood, logging hundreds of meals as the dining critic for WHERE Indianapolis, Indianapolis Woman, and NUVO before joining Indianapolis Monthly as a contributing editor in 2007. A senior lecturer in creative writing at IUPUI, Terry has published his poetry and creative nonfiction in a number of literary journals and anthologies, including Gastronomica, Alimentum, and Home Again: Essays and Memoirs from Indiana, and he’s the author of the poetry collection To the Refrigerator Gods, published by Seven Kitchens Press in 2011.