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!

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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…?

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!

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.

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.

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.