Foodie Road Trip: Pie Hopes in Kirklin

A decade ago, Kirklin’s Main Street had little more than a post office and a few stop signs. Now, this Clinton County burg boasts bona fide Neapolitan-style pizza, thanks to Alex McClelland, a native of nearby Frankfort who returned after 15 years on the West Coast to open Empire Pizzeria. Creamy housemade mozzarella, ingredients from the likes of Saint Adrian Meats & Sausage in neighboring Lebanon, and fresh-baked cannoli hint at McClelland’s culinary-school cred and years of industry experience, most recently at Bandon Dunes Golf Course along the Pacific coast.

McClelland pays homage to his parents’ popular Milky Way drive-in with hearty meatballs based on the Frankfort landmark’s  meatloaf mix. But a simply dressed pizza called The Bruce is the must-order, showcasing all of Empire’s top-shelf components: surprisingly complex mozzarella, yeasty crust with a gentle chew, and quality prosciutto, topped off with a farm egg. 106 S. Main St., Kirklin, 765-279-8220, empire-pizzeria.com

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.