The Unexpected Journey

 

“Expecting the unexpected creates great expectations.”

Travane Phoenix

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Great news! “Just How I Bike It” has been picked up by Chicago Now! The blog will be retitled “O-Regionality” at its new home, http://www.chicagonow.com/o-regionality/!

This new blog will have me exploring Northwest Indiana’s most popular and hard-to-find eateries, recreational activities from nature trails to sledding hills, tourist attractions, and local festivities, but be unrestricted by a “bikes only” theme. Everything else that you know and love will remain the same; interviews with local business owners, hints and insider tips about upcoming events and community-friendly promotions.

Thanks for your continued support! I hope to see you there!

-Travane Phoenix

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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.

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!

What’s the Scoop – Crown Point, Indiana: Roadrunner Raspberry

If things can always be worse, then now is always better.

Daniel J. Mitchell

As fall slowly takes hold of the elements, I find myself filled with bittersweet feelings. Though autumn is my favorite season, full of bright colors, cool weather, and amusing festivities, it is still a promissory note that winter is soon to follow.

Getting in what biking I can with the time I have left, today I hit the freshly paved Erie-Lackawanna Trail and made a return ride to the Crown Point Downtown Square.

Relatively comfortable in the mild weather, I decided it couldn’t hurt to stop by a Crown Point favorite, What’s the Scoop, and grab an ice cream cone.

This adorable shop located just off the square in a 100 year old historic building, had always grabbed my attention with its brilliant holiday displays and Candyland-esque decor. Established 9 years ago, Sabrina, the owner, took over this “sweet spot” from a former hardware store and has transformed it into the quaint colorful parlor you’re only used to seeing in Christmas cartoons.

As everything, “fell into place”, as she puts it, What’s the Scoop has become a popular hang-out for many of the locals. It’s a place to sit-down and enjoy a freshly made sandwich and warm bowl of soup, or simply to drop in for a sweet, cold ice cream cone. During special occasions, they’ve even been known to reserve the back room full of retro arcade games for birthdays and other events.

Today, experimenting with a new flavor of ice cream (abstaining from my Cookies N’ Cream/Cookie Dough addiction), the cashier at the desk turned me onto the Roadrunner Raspberry. White chocolate ice cream mixed with raspberries, and raspberry-filled chocolate chips, this waffle cone contained the perfect ratio of fruit and sugar!

So stop on in next time you’re in the square and grab a sandwich, play a game, or simply find out, “what’s the scoop”.

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.