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.

Advertisements

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.

Cafe 339 – Hobart, Indiana: Wraps, Paninis and People

It’s the weekend! You know what that means? Yes, the weekly father and son bike trip!

Meeting up with my father for our traditional ride, the two of us decided to go a little out of the box today and endeavor to make it all the way to Hobart. A realistic plan to be sure, but a half-baked one nonetheless.

Taking the Oak Savannah Trail starting in Oak Ridge Prairie, we made our way through the shady, wooded path straight into Hobart.

At Main Street we took a left and headed into the center of downtown Hobart where we found a thriving, new restaurant, Cafe 339.

Entering the cafe, we were instantly surprised to see how packed it was. I always take this as a good sign whenever trying out a new place. Everyone was chatting and smiling, the owner seemed to know every patron’s name, and the waitress struck up conversations with old friends and new faces alike.

The owner, Dimitri, met us at the door and offered seating either inside or at one of the three small outdoor tables. Although we wanted to keep an eye on our bikes, with the sun high in the sky and our pale Irish skin swiftly turning tomato red, we felt it was in our best interest to eat inside.

 

Once safe in the air-conditioning, we took a gander at the menus and bravely advanced into the unknown. My father ordered the special of the day, the Southwest Wrap, and I took the Cuban Panini, per our waitress’ suggestion.

Each dish came with a bowl of Mediterranean Chicken Soup, which is a blend of delicious vegetables and broth-moistened chicken. The Cuban Panini was loaded with pork, red peppers, onions and melted cheese crunched between two crispy slices of toast. The Southwest Wrap was no slouch either with chicken, lettuce, tomato, avocado, red onions and black beans rolled up into a grilled tortilla.

Both dishes were absolutely delectable. The Cuban Panini was warm and crunchy, almost comparable to the feeling of biting into a Philly Cheese Steak, except with pork. The Southwest Wrap was a tad bit softer and perfect for dipping into a bowl of creamy, spicy ranch dressing.

 

 

After sufficiently stuffing our faces, I asked to talk to the man…well, family behind Cafe 339. Steve, the son of the owner, told me that this cafe was indeed a family-operated establishment. Open for only about two years, their business has been widely renowned amongst the locals and have recently been awarded the Hobart Chamber of Commerce’s “Outstanding Business of the Year” in 2011.

Asking him what inspired this business venture, he instantly pointed me to his father, Dimitri, who said there were only two reasons he wanted to start a restaurant: cooking and the people. Never growing tired of meeting new faces or slaving over the hot stove, Dimitri is a man who appreciates the power the table has to bring people together. All about the community, the soul of the city can literally be seen in every corner and on every wall within the cafe. The entire establishment is covered in purchasable artwork painted by local artist, Peggy Davis, proving that even the drywall feeds the community.

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…

Grindhouse Cafe – Griffith, Indiana: Pulled Pork

Not giving up my quest to seek out Northwest Indiana’s best delicatessens, I systematically interrogated my fellow bloggers to get the scoop on any good eateries.
That’s when I got the word from Melissa, currently working on her new blog, Nothin’ But Eats, that the Grindhouse Cafe in downtown Griffith was the place to be.

Curious and hungry, I mounted my bike and set out for this hip new hangout. Just off Broad Street and yet another location not too far from the Erie-Lackawanna Trail, this cozy corner shop wasn’t at all hard to find.

Although there were no bike racks outside the place, the giant windows looking out onto the street gave me a good sense of security.

Faced with Grindhouse’s monolithic menu, I was a tad bit overwhelmed by the amount of choices. Fortunately, thanks to Melissa, she had already recommended I try the pulled pork. So, as suggestible as I am, that’s what I ordered.

When the food was brought out to me, I had to double check to make sure what I received was actually a pulled pork. Unlike any pulled pork sandwich I have ever had, this delicious beast was comprised of smoked tossed pork topped with an amazing red slaw, all sandwiched between a crispy croissant. Although I’ve never had a pulled pork quite like this one, I assure you, Grindhouse has set the bar pretty high for the next unfortunate barbecued pig to stand in my presence.

After wolfing down this edible work of art, I tried to keep my mouth empty long enough to socialize with some of the cliental. Given some inside tips from two ladies stopping in for a bite, they enthusiastically recommended I try the chicken salad, and iced tea next time I visit. Coming here for quite some time now, one the ladies told me she even rewards her son for good grades by taking him out here for a sandwich and a latte.

Wanting to learn a little more about the people behind the counter, I spoke with Gabe, who runs Grindhouse with his sister Kate.

This brother and sister duo went to the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (Le Cordon Bleu), and later decided to bring the fruits of their labor back to the town they were raised, Griffith, Indiana. When they learned about some open real estate in the area through a network in the Imagine Griffith team, Gabe said that he envisioned this corner of downtown Griffith to be the ideal location for their unique cafe. With lots of windows, natural lighting and a decent amount of dining space, it made for a casual, relaxed environment where people could just sit and enjoy the atmosphere.

When I asked Gabe what specifically made Grindhouse distinct from other cafes, he told me that the biggest difference had to be the food. In most cafes, coffee is the main focus and the food becomes somewhat of an afterthought. Wanting to alter that perception, Gabe and Kate strived to create a place where you can get coffee and quality cuisine as well.

Noticing the daily specials, I further inquired him about the possibility of seeing new menu items in the future. Always enjoying to explore and invent, he told me they’re constantly making new additions to the menu. Preferring to keep things fresh, and fearless enough to take a chance, they like to rotate the items as often as possible. Just recently they had served a special frozen lemonade known as the Cactuar (the name of an infamous Final Fantasy enemy), that was so popular they’re considering making it a permanent beverage on the list.

With my stomach finally rested, I thanked Gabe for the good conversation, while my growling belly thanked him for the food. I certainly owe a special thanks to Melissa as well for referring me to this wonderful hangout. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before I get to pay Grindhouse another visit.

Griffith Central Park – Griffith, Indiana: Half Mast

Using up what’s left of the sunlight, I decided to take a casual ride down to Griffith’s Central Park. Just off Broad Street and not too far from the Erie-Lackawanna Trail, this local treasure was always a good fallback destination whenever I was short on time.

Just a stone’s throw away from my grandparents old house on Elm Street, I had often spent most of my childhood playing in the park. While the jungle gym has greatly evolved since I was a toddler, and its decor more sophisticated, this new beauty still felt like an old friend.

Tykes ran around the playground laughing and screaming, a group of friends gathered around the sand volleyball courts still pumped up from the London Olympic games, as a father took pictures of his kids scaling the M4A1E8 Sherman Medium Tank. With all that had changed aesthetically here over the years, somehow the people remained the same.

Drawn to the memorial in the park’s far corner, I noticed that the American flag stood at half mast in remembrance of 9/11. Walking over and peering into the reflective granite of the monument, my visage was cast onto its shining surface. As I looked at my image brushed onto the dark rock, I couldn’t help but feel grateful knowing that without the sacrifice of our veterans, there wouldn’t be a reflection at all.

9/11 Reflection: Munster Community Veterans Memorial

Today is the only day that America reflects on a loss. We may celebrate Independence Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day and even take time to acknowledge the tragedy of D-Day, all holidays sadly birthed from war, but they are days of victory nonetheless.

The 9/11 attacks brought about new feelings and perceptions that were foreign to our country at the time, ones of vulnerability, uncertainty, and loss. It felt like the very fabric of our ideals and foundation of our freedom was on the brink of destruction. But as all men and women do when they are pushed to the very edge, we held on.

Like many other people who remember that day, the memories of 9/11 are still vividly preserved in my mind. I was eleven at the time, sitting in front of the television eating a turkey sandwich. Flipping through the stations to find something to watch, I was confused as to why the same thing was on every single channel. It looked as if there had been a horrible plane crash in New York.

Calling my mom to interpret the matter, she, like myself, perceived it to be nothing more than an unfortunate accident.

And that’s when it happened…

Watching a second plane strike the World Trade Center right before our eyes, I instantly looked to my mother seeing a sight I’ll never forget. Pale white, one of the many shades of terror, suddenly washed over her face. Her shoulders hunched and her eyes opened wide, as did all of ours, at the horrific scene transmitted over the television.

It was at that moment I knew that what had just happened would change us forever.

Eleven years later, having endured loss, fear, panic, war and terror, America once again has proved that it can take every moment, triumphant or tragic, and transform it into a defining moment. Even though we had been torn apart by terror, we were united by our resolution.

As we remember our journey as a people: our victories, our losses, our accomplishments and missteps, we continue to build courage around doubt and purpose over incertitude.

While I’ve already included an excerpt on Munster’s Community Veterans Memorial not too long ago, I would like to take this time of reflection and give it a second glance.

Last Sunday, my father and I rode down The Munster Bike Path through Centennial Park and across the street to The Community Veterans Memorial at 9710 Calumet Avenue. Although no bikes are allowed on the memorial itself, it was a small price to pay to honor our veterans.

A beautiful red brick path encompasses the park, with references to specific historical events chronologically ordered, beginning at the year 1896. Grand monuments paying tribute to veterans from WWI to the Persian Gulf War are spread throughout the canvas. Skillfully blended into the greenery of the gardens, these intense monuments of war are perfectly contrasted by the serenity of nature, creating moments of remembrance and resolve.

If you’re looking for a special way to commemorate the sacrifice of our troops overseas, or simply to acknowledge those who lost their loved ones during the 9/11 tragedy, this memorial is the perfect way to focus your mind and comfort your heart.