I don’t go home from the conference the same way I came. I don’t follow the Lincoln Highway back. I have to stop outside the town of Delaware, Ohio, at my sister’s house to get my mother who has been staying there for a couple of months. My sister told me to watch for Route 33 that essentially connects Van Wert, Ohio, with Delaware, or nearly so. And the relaxing return-ride turned out to be another highlight of this conference experience too.
On that Saturday morning in South Bend, I sat next to Russell Rein at the final breakfast meeting. I learned from Russell (who in addition to being an avid postcard and Lincoln Highway collector is also an enthusiastic foodie) about several Indiana food opportunities, and he told me about Nick’s Kitchen, the place that claims to have invented the pork tenderloin sandwich. It’s in Huntington, Indiana, and if I alter my route just a bit, I can be in Huntington for lunch. Yes.
I don’t dawdle getting out of South Bend. I head south on the Dixie Highway until it meets Route 30, and I turn east, riding on the 1930 route of the Lincoln, but I’ll turn farther south on Route 5 before I get to Fort Wayne.
It’s not hard to find Nick’s Kitchen. It’s on North Jefferson, the main street of downtown Huntington, and there’s a cool old neon sign hanging out front. (I later find out that it’s a reproduction of the old sign, but it’s a beauty. Every classic eatery should be so aware of the potency and power of old neon.)
It wasn’t till I got inside and sat in an empty booth near the front window that I remember Russell had mentioned that Dan Quayle used to come to Nick’s when he lived here in Huntington, and in 1988 he announced his candidacy for Vice-President here or somewhere just outside this cozy little place. (Look at the old sign in the historic photo!)
Who cares about stupid politics when there’s a regional food specialty to be sampled? And I see on the menu: there’s a history of how a veal cutlet, a wiener schnitzel, became such a popular sandwich, especially once the veal was replaced by locally raised pork. This is where the sandwich originated. OK. Good idea!
The waitress is fun and helpful. She suggests the onion rings (made here!) and says that the pork tenderloin is a good choice, especially if I’ve never been here before. They have a grilled tenderloin on the menu (and that’s what I liked so much at the Whitehouse the other day) but I don’t see it till after I’ve ordered. Who cares? It’s the breaded pork tenderloin that they invented here.
My food is delivered by a slightly older woman, not my waitress, and she’s friendly too, so I ask, Are you the owner? And she says Yes she is. And we start talking about how I found out about the place, and I tell her a friend in South Bend, and she confesses that her business has increased significantly and so has her own enjoyment of the place since Jane and MIchael Stern included it in one of their Roadfood books. ”I was tired of the same thing every day, the same people, then after they recommended us, people from all over the world have been coming here.” She seemed genuinely happy.
The sandwich was pretty great too. Fresh and moist. BIG. I had thought I’d probably get one to go for in the car too, but one tenderloin was so much food that I couldn’t even consider it. It wants to flop and wiggle out of your hand sometimes, but I managed to keep it all together.
Then the owner, Jean Anne Drabenstot Bailey, says I’d be crazy to leave without having a piece of her sugar cream pie. ”My recipe was featured in Gourmet magazine,” she bragged. It was simple, delicious and cinnamon-y. I could love that pie for breakfast. I asked Jean Anne about breakfast (because I’m gonna make a program called BREAKFAST SPECIAL for PBS starting later this summer), and she said they make a great breakfast and she gave me a quick lesson in how to make a consistently tasty sausage gravy. A definite possibility.
I love this lunch, but eventually I head southeast out of Huntington toward Ohio. Just after I cross under Interstate 69 at the town of Markle, I see a large Antique Mall on the right, and I turn in there to see what I might see on a Saturday afternoon. Lots of good stuff. I buy a set of old cotton pillowcases with blue stitching on them, a couple of CDs, and I see lots of things I want.
I spend too much time looking at a rack of postcards, and I find one that shows the California Palace of the Legion of Honor and a flagpole terminus for the Lincoln Highway. Had to have it. Souvenir of the conference and the nice ride home.