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!

Jeepers Creepers

 

The weekend weather made it quite clear that it’s almost time to place the bike back on the rack. Although, I was able to squeeze in a few casual rides down to Oak Ridge Prairie and the Calumet River, even these routine rides were becoming a chore with the high winds and cold air creeping in.

Needless to say, I think these next few days, hopefully weeks, will be marking the end of my bicycling adventures. While I’ll still be able to post about local sights to see and eateries to try, I will most likely be documenting them from the safe heated cockpit of my car rather than the cold leather seat of my bike.

So, what’s next on the agenda? Not wanting to let my favorite season get by without a second glance, I’m planning on doing a little holiday ride around The Region. As the residents dress their lawns with tombstones, drape their walls with ghosts and stock their homes with candy, I will set out into the night to explore some of the creepiest and cutest Halloween decor this side of Northwest Indiana has to offer!

Autumn has Fallen

With Mother Nature fighting me at every turn, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that biking season is coming to a close. Barely able to get out and enjoy the outdoors without dawning a suit of fleece armor, the chill of late fall is all too real.

If you’re able to get out during one of the nicer days over the weekend, I highly recommend paying Oak Ridge Prairie a visit. With autumn officially settling in, the trees are just beginning to transform into gorgeous, organic jewels of orange, yellow and red. There’s a nice playground set-up if you’re planning on bringing the family and plenty of nature trails if you’re merely looking for an escape. While I’m not exactly the hiking expert, one of my fellow bloggers, Earth Traveler, stopped by the park recently for a little expedition. You can check out his misadventures at, Earth Traveler’s Guide to Environmental Entertainment.

Hopefully over the weekend I’ll be able to soak in the last of the waning sunshine and make it out to a few more eateries around Northwest Indiana. I’m thinking in this weather I better start shooting for a place that serves hot chocolate.

Any suggestions…?

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.

The Bread Basket – Hammond, Indiana: Thin Swedish

This weekend my father and I made it to Hammond despite the Little Calumet River Trail being under construction. Taking a subtle, perhaps unwarranted, detour through the smaller portion of the closed trail, we were able to hop onto the Erie-Lackawanna Trail running behind Cabela’s.

 

Riding up to Indianapolis Boulevard, we took a left and arrived at a cozy Hammond favorite, The Bread Basket.

This family owned restaurant run by husband and wife, Ron and Karen, has been serving Northwest Indiana their famed, freshly baked bread since 1985. Not a very large restaurant, their dining area can only sit a handful of people, however, I did notice that they get a lot of carryout orders. The cashier, Diamond, told me that their busiest hours run from 11:30a – 2p, and that they don’t start selling loaves of bread until 2p – 2:30p (which is still depending on how busy they are). Some of their more popular meals include, the Almond Chicken, the Sub Sandwich, and Reuben.

A creature of habit, I ended up ordering my usual, a Thin Swedish with a cup of Cheesy Broccoli Soup, while my dad tried the new Spring Garden Chicken. Turkey, ham, swiss cheese and Romaine lettuce tucked between two slices of freshly baked wheat bread, the Thin Swedish had been a life long addiction since my grandmother introduced me to it when I was naught but a pre-schooler. The Cheesy Broccoli Soup, on the other hand, was a more recent discovery of mine. An exceptional blend of hearty broccoli, creamy cheese and carrots, this concoction was a little more “gardeny” than my lactose tolerant palate desired, but was a quality soup nonetheless. The Spring Garden Chicken was packed with tomato, alfalfa sprouts, avocado and tender grilled chicken on top of wheat bread. While my father said he enjoyed the sandwich, the avocado slices were a tad bit thick for his taste.

They’re open Tuesday thru Friday from 10a to 4p. Though it may not be the easiest place to get to by bike, even with the trail fixed, The Bread Basket is an excellent Northwest Indiana treasure that everyone should try.

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!