Jake Burgess has a soft spot for the cafeterias of his youth. His chili bowl at FoxGardin Kitchen & Ale on Fortville’s Main Street comes with a slice of cheddar, a packet of saltines, and a dollop of peanut butter on the side, the way it might have back in his school lunchroom. But the former executive chef at Prime 47 in downtown Indianapolis has come a long way since he was a student at nearby Mt. Vernon High, and the sirloin tips he uses in his delectable, mostly beef chili elevate it well beyond anything the lunch ladies used to make. With tender slices of carrot and chunks of real tomatoes, this is the kind of thoughtful, made-from-scratch pub food folks in this quaint town on U.S. 36 have been craving for years. Mostly, Burgess wants to make the kind of food he wants to eat, like a turkey Reuben, his favorite sandwich, here with house-roasted meat, homemade Russian dressing, and a side of “cafeteria chips,” the ultra-thin crispy type like you might get at the county fair.
Teaming up with Ball State college buddy Toby Shelton, who most recently worked in food and beverage at the Omni Severin Hotel, Burgess has refurbished an old storefront bar in the heart of his hometown into a comfortable place where friends just want to hang out, whether on the fenced-in patio on a summer day or for live music three nights a week. But it’s the care in the kitchen that makes this place worth the drive, from the slow-smoked then deep-fried wings to the surprisingly fresh salads—particularly good with the tangy-sweet orange-blossom French dressing. Burgess’s take on the Hoosier tenderloin has a lightly crunchy breading and plenty of fresh toppings (and doesn’t protrude from the bun like so many over-the-top renditions). Only his tagliatelle Bolognese seemed a little heavy and lacking bite, though the rich, creamy meat sauce and wide pasta were a welcome change from typical bar eats. Pies made by Burgess’s mother, Jane (a portion of whose maiden name, along with Shelton’s mother’s, makes up FoxGardin), include a sugar cream version that’s a perfect homage to the sticky, sweet, buttery-crusted dessert. 215 S. Main St., Fortville, 485-4085.