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.

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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.

Kowloon – Schererville, Indiana: Chinese Food for The Region

The unfortunate autumn rain forced me off the trails and onto the road today, causing me to temporarily break my “bike only” vow for the convenience of a car ride.

Warming up at an old favorite, my family and I drove out to Schererville for some of the best Chinese food in The Region. Just off the intersection of Cline Ave. and US 30, Kowloon, has been my family’s go-to restaurant for Chinese cuisine since they opened.

Coming around dinner time, our meals had a $2 additional charge since it was past 3p (lunch hours $5 – $6 range). However, you didn’t see us arguing because we knew full well that we’d be getting our money’s worth.

My father ordered the Orange Chicken, breaded chicken lathered in a tangy sauce accompanied by firm vegetables. Taking one of her more traditional favorites, my mother had the Sweet and Sour Chicken, soft breaded chicken, pineapple, tomatoes and peppers drizzled with ruby red sweet and sour sauce. Playing it a little adventurous today, I decided against my usual (Chicken w/ Broccoli) and went for the spicier, General Tso’s Chicken, crispy breaded chicken with crunchy peppers and broccoli clothed in a spicy citrus glaze. Every dish game with fried rice, an egg roll and the best egg drop soup I’ve ever had, no exaggerations.

 

 

 

Run by husband and wife, Steve and Lucy, the Kowloon is named after the Chinese town Steve grew up in. Moving to America in 1974, then from Chicago to Schererville just a short while ago, these two have been gracing Northwest Indiana with the greatest Chinese food for almost three years now. Working six days a week and loving every minute of it, Lucy tells me the best part of her job is the people. Always stopping by every table and constantly striking up conversations, this gregarious girl loves to be a part of the community on the most intimate level. As long as you’re in her restaurant, you’re part of her family. The only thing you don’t have to worry about is the dishes.

Lincoln’s – Highland, Indiana: Bunny Girl

Although I’ve taken the Highland bike trail to the Calumet River many times, today I saw it as a great opportunity to visit one of my favorite sandwich shops, Lincoln’s.  Right off the bike trail on Highway Avenue in the heart of downtown Highland, Lincoln’s has been a revered local favorite of Northwest Indiana for quite some time.

Literally at the halfway point between my traditional Griffith to Calumet River route, Lincoln’s was absolutely no trouble to get to. However, they are a tad bit hidden behind some trees lining the downtown sidewalks which can make it difficult to spot.

Parking my bike on a rack just a few paces to the right of the place, I strolled into store faced with the traditional lunch rush. Although not as busy as I’ve seen it in the past, the 12-1p crowd can sometimes keep you waiting about 5 minutes or more depending on the day. Not an insane wait unless you find yourself in need of a quick grab and go.

Ordering my traditional demasculating sandwich, the Bunny Girl, I was just thankful that they didn’t shout the name across the counter after I ordered it. Ham, lettuce, tomato and mayo piled on a warm flakey sub roll, the Bunny Girl has been my absolute favorite since I was a little boy. I also took a scrumptious helping of Ham and Bean soup, however I wouldn’t recommend it unless you want uninviting tunes on the journey home. Thick with carrots, ham and of course, BEANS, this piping hot soup was still inviting even on a mild fall day.

The staff was very kind, courteous and surprisingly bike friendly, offering to refill my water bottle with ice, keeping my to-go sandwich under the heating lamp and even bagged my leftovers in paper and plastic so I wouldn’t bath in mayo the rest of my ride.

Though I had been here dozens of times throughout my life, this was the first experience I had visiting on bike. I must say, it was definitely well worth the trip. The food was, as always, delicious, the staff extremely hospitable, and the location perfect. The only advice I have to give to anyone planning on venturing up is bring a backpack. Trust me, you won’t be able to finish all the food there…