Five Star Thai Cuisine – Crown Point, Indiana: Warm Weather and Hot Curry

“If things can always be worse, then now is always better.”

Daniel J. Mitchell

This unexpected turn in the weather has permitted my father and I to take one last weekend bike ride out to Crown Point for some delectable Thai food!

Located just off the Lincoln Highway at 5124 Pine Island Court, is a quaint, hidden kitchen with literally the best Thai food I’ve ever had, the Five Star Thai Cuisine. Owned and operated by colleagues and friends, Jillian and Tana, this popular local eatery has been bringing Crown Point authentic Thai cuisine since 1986. Jillian was originally a waitress working her way through college around the time the restaurant was first established. When one of the original founders resigned, Jillian was asked to abandon her career as a photographer to help keep the establishment alive. Still taking pictures, traveling the world (including a recent visit to, you guessed it, Thailand) and co-running a business, it would seem she hasn’t so much as abandoned her career as simply embraced life.

Famished already from the windy six mile bike ride up, we ordered some pot stickers as a starter. Light, airy, golden fried dumplings stuffed with ground chicken and vegetables accompanied by a sweet and tangy ginger soy sauce, this rich and delicious appetizer was the perfect prelude to the incredible dinner to come.

For the main course, I chose the spicy and savory, Panang Curry, while my father helped himself to the Sweet and Sour Dish. The curry was absolutely mouthwatering; a succulent blend of hot red curry, coconut milk, peanut sauce, Thai basil leaves and crisp bell peppers. Though a seemingly odd combination of flavors at first glance, I was astounded at not only the way the tastes complemented one another but the fact that I was able to detect each and every one of them, despite their varying levels of boldness. Each curry does come with a choice of meat (or tofu/vegetables for you vegetarians), chicken, beef and pork or shrimp for $2 extra. Although I went with the chicken, I’m sure it would taste fine no matter what ingredient you select.

The Sweet and Sour Dish wasn’t the typical fried chicken with veggies coated in thick sugary sauce my father and I had come to expect. Instead, the dish included a large helping of grilled chicken and vegetables drizzled in a light, broth-like sauce which made for a smooth, perhaps healthier (wishful thinking) approach to the Chinese rendition of the meal.

To finish, we shared a traditional Thai dessert of sticky rice paired with a serving of coconut sprinkled ice cream. An elegant mix of sweet, cold ice cream and mild, warm, starchy rice, this rich and filling dessert made for the ideal close of our dining experience, and sleepy and slothful ride home.

Flintstones and Jack-O-Lanterns in Griffith, Indiana

“Time is measured by the movement of hands, but history is measured by the fruit of their labors.”

Daniel J. Mitchell

Checking out one of Griffith’s most beloved seasonal tourist attractions, today I got to stop by the pumpkin buried lawn of the Berenie family (917 Miller Street, Griffith).

Every year the Berenie’s grow and harvest their own pumpkins on a large plot of land at the corner of Arbogast and Miller Street. Annually carving out a new theme into their monolithic, orange vegetables, this year’s family friendly motif was none other than the Flintstones.

Fortunate enough to catch the carvers in their “pre-carving phase”, I got to watch as they graphed and plotted the endearing sprites onto the bulbous faces of the pumpkins. Wilma Flintstone stood in a perky salute with her hands on her hips, Fred Flintstone cruised in his stone-age automobile with a delightful grin, and the rambunctious Hoppy the Hopparoo (an apparent hybrid of dinosaur/kangaroo) flashed an adorable, dopey smile.

Daring to snag one of the carvers for an interview, I was able to speak with Ms. Berenie at the front of the lawn who welcomed the break. Frustrated in her attempts to draw the Flintstones’ iconic, stone-carved letters, she assured me that as long as there was paint thinner to go around, she’d eventually get it right.

Curious as to how they decide what theme to run with every year, she informed me that it all depends on the pumpkins. Before they even give way to fleeting inspiration, the family pays close attention to both the quantity and quality of the pumpkins to determine which theme will work.

 

 

Baffled at just how much effort goes into the mere grid sketches, I had to ask how much more difficult is it to do the actual carving. Admitting that carving is definitely the most tedious part, they tackle the challenge by carefully utilizing tiny knives to sculpt every minute detail, and occasionally wires where mistakes are made (though, she assured me, this rarely happens).

While they aren’t quite done with the finishing touches yet, Ms. Berenie assured me that most of the pumpkins will be ready for display this coming Sunday. So, if you happen to be in town, indulge in a moment of regression and catch a glimpse of these wonderfully nostalgic Jack-o-lanterns!

Zodiac Cafe – Crown Point, Indiana: Kronos

“I only let fate decide what I can’t control.”

Daniel J. Mitchell

Busy, busy, busy. Unfortunately the past few days have been so hectic, I haven’t had the chance to hit the trails and blow off some steam. Luckily, today, there was just enough of an air pocket in my schedule to journey up to Crown Point.

Taking my most utilized path at this point, the Erie-Lackawanna Trail, I rode back to Crown Point’s downtown square in search of a notable local eatery, the Zodiac Cafe.

A bit easier to reach and close to the trail, the Zodiac Cafe is located right at the mouth of the square.

Their dining area is absolutely gorgeous, arranged with multiple seating variations from casual couches to more formal tables. They also have outdoor seating available in a nifty little ally and a bar in the back for the dinner crowd and the “I’m having a hard day” lunches.

Relaxing on one of the couches looking out onto the streets, I watched a lone girl decorating the cafe for Halloween. As frustrated as I would be handling all the tape, thumbtacks, and clips by myself, she informed me that this whole ordeal was to be a “team effort”. However, on this day in particular, everybody magically had something come up keeping them from all the… “festive fun”. Trying to get her to look on the bright side, I suggested that she would be the one to get all the credit, but that didn’t seem to keep her mind off planning vengeance against the skaters. So for those of you who didn’t show up, watch out. I think she’s saving thumbtacks.

 

The waiter, Keith, had a little sit down with me about the cafe. Zodiac is owned by the Papas family, the same people who own the Main Street Cafe next door. While Main Street is more of a “breakfast” place as he put it, the Zodiac was built for lunch and dinner. They do occasionally have artists/comedians come in from time to time to perform, and every month they celebrate a new sign of the Zodiac by offering specials on specific drinks named after the celestial bodies.

During my stay I ordered the Kronos sandwich, named after the father of Zeus, off the $5 lunch specials menu (offered 11a – 3p). Consisting of turkey, lettuce, tomato, cheese and crispy bacon piled between two slices of soft, doughy pretzel bread, this fistful of goodness was a unique spin on a Turkey Club Sandwich. It comes with a side of pasta salad which I found to be a little bit zesty for my taste.

No matter what constellation you were born under or what advice your horoscope gives,  Zodiac Cafe offers a brilliant dining experience that not even fate can refuse.

Boz Hotdogs – Griffith, Indiana: Cheese Dog

“If time is money we are only getting poorer.”

Daniel J. Mitchell

Still in denial over the brisk fall weather, I thought it would be a good idea to venture out in my customary attire: shorts and a t-shirt. Feeling the cold sting of regret with every pedal, I pressed on in some sick attempt to hold onto summer. While I didn’t allow Mother Nature to win, I eventually had to call for a truce and settled for a close to home eatery in downtown Griffith.

Just off Broad Street and not too far from the Erie-Lackawanna Trail, Boz Hotdogs (formerly known as Bozo Hotdogs) has been a hometown favorite of Griffith ever since I can remember. A short walk away from Central Park and across the street from the Griffith YMCA, Boz Hotdogs is quite literally in the heart of the community.

Ordering my all-time favorite, the cheese dog, I was served a succulent frank smothered in mild nacho cheese accompanied by crispy, golden fries. This sufficiently filling meal in all its splendor surprisingly cost a mere $3.16, drink included!

After inhaling my entree, I stopped by the counter and had a chat with a girl named, Missy. Filling me in on some great fun facts about the place, she said that before Boz, this building was home to an ice cream shop called Tasty Freeze. It later became a “Bozo Hotdogs” back in the 80s, but was forced to convert its infamous ending “O” into a smiley face when transitioning to the new title, “Boz”. While their more popular dishes include the Italian Beef and the Nachos, Missy said most of their orders come in on Mondays for their famous $1.99 hotdogs!

What’s the Scoop – Crown Point, Indiana: Roadrunner Raspberry

If things can always be worse, then now is always better.

Daniel J. Mitchell

As fall slowly takes hold of the elements, I find myself filled with bittersweet feelings. Though autumn is my favorite season, full of bright colors, cool weather, and amusing festivities, it is still a promissory note that winter is soon to follow.

Getting in what biking I can with the time I have left, today I hit the freshly paved Erie-Lackawanna Trail and made a return ride to the Crown Point Downtown Square.

Relatively comfortable in the mild weather, I decided it couldn’t hurt to stop by a Crown Point favorite, What’s the Scoop, and grab an ice cream cone.

This adorable shop located just off the square in a 100 year old historic building, had always grabbed my attention with its brilliant holiday displays and Candyland-esque decor. Established 9 years ago, Sabrina, the owner, took over this “sweet spot” from a former hardware store and has transformed it into the quaint colorful parlor you’re only used to seeing in Christmas cartoons.

As everything, “fell into place”, as she puts it, What’s the Scoop has become a popular hang-out for many of the locals. It’s a place to sit-down and enjoy a freshly made sandwich and warm bowl of soup, or simply to drop in for a sweet, cold ice cream cone. During special occasions, they’ve even been known to reserve the back room full of retro arcade games for birthdays and other events.

Today, experimenting with a new flavor of ice cream (abstaining from my Cookies N’ Cream/Cookie Dough addiction), the cashier at the desk turned me onto the Roadrunner Raspberry. White chocolate ice cream mixed with raspberries, and raspberry-filled chocolate chips, this waffle cone contained the perfect ratio of fruit and sugar!

So stop on in next time you’re in the square and grab a sandwich, play a game, or simply find out, “what’s the scoop”.

Arnie’s Dog House – Munster, Indiana: Polish Sausage and Cheese Fries

Returning to Wicker Memorial Park, I was excited to explore what culinary marvels awaited me in Hammond. However, as I made my way down the rough and dusty path encompassing the park, I found the exit to the Little Calumet River Trail closed for maintenance.

Frustrated, since this was the only route I bothered to research for today’s ride, I was forced to rely on the intuition of the 1/16th Cherokee heritage in my blood. Unfortunately, it only gave me 1/16th good direction.

 

 

Following the alternative path around Wicker Memorial Park, I ran into an ice cream stand that I had been meaning to try, BrrWick Ice Cream. But, as luck would have it, the shop, like the trail, was closed. With no visible signs displaying their hours, and judging from the bareness inside, it appeared that they might be closed for the season. Although, I’m not entirely sure.

Not giving up after strike two, I ventured out of the park and took a right down the sidewalk along Ridge Road.

Attempting to take a safe back road to Calumet Avenue, I passed yet another six roads closed for construction. Now, not even paying attention in the slightest, I took an impulsive right down an unknown road and continued this pattern of irregular turns until I magically made my way onto Calumet Ave.

Not looking a gift horse in the mouth, I sighed in relief having found a familiar scene, the Frozen Yogurt Express. Though I was tempted to take a second visit to this delightful sweet shop, I knew what I really needed was lunch.

Moseying along the road, my hungry eyes were met with a deliciously nostalgic sight, Arnie’s Dog House. A place where my grandmother had been taking me since I was three years old, I couldn’t deny the inevitable hand of fate that guided me here.

Famished and exhausted, I propped my bike against the restaurant and sluggishly entered, ready to eat!

Since I hadn’t been to this All-American eatery in a very long time, I had to ask the cashier, Amanda, what she recommended. Turning me onto the Polish Sausage, accompanied by an order of my absolute favorite cheese fries, my unwavering trust in strangers’ suggestions was once again reinforced.

A bright red sausage covered in a blanket of onions, mild peppers, mustard, and my Chicago treasonist addition of ketchup, this bad boy was the perfect way to slow down my ride by at least 5 miles per hour. Of course, the golden and crispy fries partnered with a cup of bright yellow cheese made this a delectable greasy garden that almost brought me to tears.

Spending a little more time with the team behind the counter, I basked in their grub-gathering wisdom. Asking them to bestow their knowledge of the best and biggest eats on the menu, aside from the Polish Sausage, some of their other popular products include: the Chicago-Style Hotdog, Italian Beef and Pizza Puffs (Pizza Roll-like snacks).

 

Serving Northwest Indiana for 26 years, this family owned restaurant has been feeding the community comfort food since 1986. Although, I’ve been coming to this Arnie’s since I was a toddler, they tell me there is a second location in Whiting.

Though I journeyed here by a rather unorthodox route, they are just up the road from the Little Calumet River Trail, which will optimistically be the way you get to take when stopping by. However, if you find yourself with an insatiable hankering for a mouthwatering Polish Sausage, you can always take the more direct, but bumpy, Ridge Road sidewalk to Calumet Ave.

Frozen Yogurt Express – Munster, Indiana: Shake It

Coming home after a rough day, I found myself with a horrible toothache. However, this wasn’t your typical toothache that could be remedied by a dentist visit or brushing with Sensodyne. No, the only thing that could satiate this unnerving pain was a nice, cold, ice cream shake. That’s right…it was a sweet toothache.

 

Biking out to Wicker Memorial Park in Highland, I connected with the Little Calumet River Trail and followed it down to Calumet Avenue. Once I hit the end of the trail in Munster, I immediately glanced to the left, my Sugar Sense was tingling. Just a few pedals up the road was an old frozen yogurt shop I had visited awhile back with my father, the Frozen Yogurt Express.

Gladly submitting to temptation, I advanced toward the quaint little hut. Merely a counter and a kitchen, this tiny building was a delightful, rusty penny amongst the more impersonal structures of the area.

During my last visit, I was bold enough to ask what was the most original dessert they make. The cashier said if she had to choose her favorite, most original menu item it would have to be the Swedish Fish Shake-It… Unfortunately, I wasn’t bold enough to try it.

Settling for an Oreo Shake-It, their most popular, not their most unique, I was pleasantly surprised with the result. Literally what it sounds like, a Shake-It is a frozen yogurt shake with cookies, candy, or cake rolls, pulverized into it. While I thoroughly enjoyed this liquified masterpiece, I know some people who’ve said they didn’t care for the gritty texture. So if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, you might want to grab a cone instead.

Mentally preparing myself on this return trip, I was crazy enough to try the Swedish Fish Shake-It. However, when I was faced with a cup full of pink slop and red specks, I began to re-evaluate my decision-making skills. Closing my eyes, I took a nice, deep slurp. Pleasantly surprised, this blend of fruitiness and creamy frozen yogurt tickled my tongue and gave me a slaphappy sugar buzz. While I still prefer the Oreo Shake-It a little bit more, the Swedish Fish made for a good non-chocolate substitute.

 

Having only experimented with Shake-Its these past two visits, I asked the cashier what were some of their other popular creations. She said that their most popular item had to be the 24 oz Root Beer Float, but a lot of people come in for a quick cone or the sugar-free flavor of the day as well.

Although this shop was opened by the husband and wife team of Bob and Linda back in 1989, it will be moving into a strip mall up the road in late October. While I’ll certainly miss the cute stop-and-go style stand, it’ll be nice to see what they can do with a newer facility. Perhaps, I’ll swing by for another visit after the move if it’s not too cold.