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!

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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!

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.

Griffith Public Library – Griffith, Indiana: Fear Itself…

This year I signed up for a special topics class in literature and culture at Purdue University Calumet. Before taking this class I was made well aware that the “topic” would be determined by the assigned professor, and much to my chagrin, his selection was horror… how “special”.

While I appreciate the impact that the horror genre has had on our culture, I would rather not investigate how it impacts me. Procrastinating even watching a clip from the mildest of fright films, it wasn’t until just last weekend that I braved The Mothman Prophecies (said mildest film).

I’m pretty sure this elusion to scary movies originated during my middle school years. Back in the day when LAN parties were still cool, and Halo 2 was still new, my reputation as a hardcore gamer got me invited to a high school Halo tournament. Spending the night at the tournament host’s crib to help set up the next day, my adolescent self couldn’t have felt more awesome as the only fourteen year-old amongst five kids who had driver’s licenses.

When one of the “bros” suggested we go out to Blockbuster to snag a movie, the first title that was unanimously voted on was The Grudge. Never having heard of the movie, I only assumed it would be the best darn action film only a testosterone packed overnighter could provide. I was wrong…

Forced to watch undead, mutilated corpses maliciously stalk their victims in the “sanctuary” of my host’s dark basement, this first experience with a horror film wasn’t the best. If that wasn’t enough, when it came time to crash, my sleeping bag was strategically placed at the foot of the stairs with the light of the moon eerily crawling down the steps. Paralyzed in fear the duration of the night, it wasn’t until the sun rose that I cried tears of joy having survived till morning.

Now, ten years later, I was about to do it again…

Biking to the Griffith Public Library just off North Broad street, I took in all the sun, warmth, blue skies, generally anything happy before I ruined it after having to watch The Ring. The Griffith Branch had always been my designated library as far back as I could remember. However, all of that’s going to change once they move to their new location on 45th Street sometime in November. Not that I’m too sentimental towards the old branch, it’s just going to be weird biking a different route so soon.

When I arrived at the Griffith Branch, I idly rummaged the video shelves, praying that The Ring would be checked out. Apparently, I wasn’t praying hard enough. Grabbing the movie and heading out, I dreaded every pedal drawing me closer to home.

Making sure I still had an ample amount of daylight left, I popped in the DVD and turned on the lights. I don’t know if any of you have ever watched The Ring completely alone with nothing but a border collie to keep you company, but it is not something I would recommend.

Jumping and twitching every time a car passed by, gasping with every phone call and gripping my dog so tight that I had a hand full of black and white fur, I felt my suppressed middle school self emerge from his tomb with vengeance. Once the movie had finally finished, I immediately ejected the disc and looked outside as the sun started set.

Boy, was this going to be a long night.

Griffith Historical Park – Griffith, Indiana: Sea Legs

I’ve never been really good at math, but today’s equation wasn’t too hard to grasp: endless shrimp = very short bike ride.

Visiting Red Lobster early this afternoon, I found myself face to face with unlimited refillable shrimp and an increasingly limited stomach. Of course it has taken years of training, but I have successfully conditioned myself to ignore the primal instinct telling me to stop eating allowing for hours upon hours of hazardous gorging.

Teriyaki, popcorn, fried, and coconut, I was literally overwhelmed by the number of choices. Experimenting with the teriyaki shrimp on the side of the coconut (something I knew I liked), it really surprised me how delicious this new Asian zing was smothered on a shellfish.

After a few more refills of the teriyaki splashed shrimp, I once again was faced with another math problem; how much pressure could the seams of my pants take before ripping in proportion to the amount of refills I decided to ingest? Needless to say, it was time to go.

When I got home I sluggishly took my bike out to the Griffith Historical Park and swung around to the edge of the Highland path off 45th Street. Too drunk on seafood to take in the scenery, the entire experience was like riding on a wobbly boat just begging for the relief of a shark attack…

On the return ride home I was halted by two trains, which I looked at as gracious gifts from God, giving me brief moments of solace in between the nausea.

I considered it a great accomplishment having made it home without regurgitating my well spent $14.99.

Now safely in the house, laying down on the couch, I stared blankly up at the ceiling. The swirling white texture of the walls made me think of my leftover mashed potatoes.

…Mashed potatoes. Those sound good.