Mother Nature cooked up another sultry scorcher for the seventh staging of Dig IN: Taste of Indiana, the premier celebration of all the tasty foods, beers, and wines produced around the state. But the heat didn’t stop more than 40 restaurants and artisan producers from cooking up everything from Latin shrimp and grits to bison tongue with Indian succotash and fry bread. And two dozen wineries and breweries provided some much-needed refreshment with samples of ciders, lagers, and regional vintages for a decidedly spirited crowd waiting in what were generally swift-moving lines. A move this year from White River State Park to nearby Military Park afforded foodies and chefs a bit more shade—and quite a bit more level space—making it easier to navigate the various festival tents. And while a few vendors such as Pioneer and The Oceanaire Seafood Room exhausted their supplies just halfway through the festival, most participants noted how smoothly the event went, lauding the organizers for improved planning with each year of the event.
Popcorn and duck appeared to be the flavors of the day, with popcorn garnishing dishes such as Oakleys Bistro chef Steven Oakley’s rich and nicely seared duck yakitori skewers with a tangy sour cherry glaze, and accompanying Vida pastry chef Hattie McDaniel’s knockout corn cake with a peach-blueberry compote and a corn husk–infused cream.
Popcorn also stood alone in one of the more popular entries this year, Revery’s liquid nitrogen popcorn that had festivalgoers blowing clouds of steam from this scientific novelty. Indiana duck turned up in in Columbus-based Artisan Foodwork’s Cantonese duck tacos, which drew one of the longer lines, as well as the Pendleton favorite Madison’s maple-bourbon barbecued duck, and the Maple Leaf Farms Duckmobile’s duck kofte bites, a play on the Middle Eastern kebab generally made with lamb or beef.
Hoosier favorite pork was represented in a number of tasty bites as well. Newcomer Gomez BBQ, which is now selling its handcrafted smoked pastrami and Canadian bacon at local farmers markets, offered up a pork-on-pork “Dusty Pig” bite with braised pork, pickles, and a crunchy pork topping.
Cerulean’s Alan Sternberg and Peter Schmutte conspired on a Ron Swanson-inspired bacon-wrapped pork belly that was considerably less over-the-top than it sounded, with a great mix of textures and a well-balanced tangy, slightly spicy sauce.
Recent Plat 99 returner Eli Laidlaw offered his take on Chinese barbecue lamb shoulder, which his staff put together while he was off winning this year’s Sous Chef Challenge, scoring with his takes on seared chicken thighs, duck sausage, and a blackberry-sauerkraut coulis. Rook sous chef Esteban Rosas came in second.