Upland Brewing Company


Today I am discussing another of my absolute favorite restaurants, easily in my all-time top 5, period.  I first discovered Upland Brewing Company in May of 2010 within a couple of weeks of moving to the city.  The restaurant expertly blends an impressive selection of hand-crafted beers.  In addition to the brews Upland features some of the best food in town, specializing in fresh local ingredients it kicks standard pub fare up several notches.

Upland burger and fries. Patty can be beef, buffalo, chicken, or black bean. I highly recommend the buffalo!

Upland is located at 350 West 11th Street, a few blocks north of downtown.  Currently the location contains both the restaurant and the brewing operation, but they are in the process of expanding.  In good weather there is a very nice outdoor dining and patio area that provides a beer-garden type atmosphere.  On the inside the restaurant has a cozy pub feel with a bar area, wood tables, a few TVs and beer memorabilia.  Until the restaurant expands it can get extremely crowded inside during the winter months when outdoor seating is not available, so arrive early, but on the plus side the bar is open while you wait.

At a given time Upland features about six beers on tap, and the list frequently rotates.  A number of the beers have won regional and international awards and the brewery is constantly developing new specialty batches in addition to the year-round and seasonal selections.  So far out of all the varieties I have tried (well over a dozen) my two personal favorites have been the bourbon barrel winter warmer, with rich notes of vanilla and bourbon, and the Infinite Wisdom Tripel, which is a Belgian style made light and crisp with subtle fruitiness.  Other favorites include the Wheat beer, Bad Elmer Porter, and Komodo Dragonfly Black IPA.

Special of the week: Spaghetti a meatballs. The meatballs are a mix of local beef, local buffalo, and Italian sausage. Divine.

I’m not sure where to begin when describing the food.  One of the signatures of the restaurant is the fact that the menu is composed almost entirely of local ingredients, made fresh.  One of my favorite appetizers at Upland is the spinach and artichoke dip, which is the best I have ever found.  The difference maker is the quality of the spinach and artichoke.  It is creamy and cheesy, but not overpowering so that the main ingredients are the star.  Served with blue corn chips and warm, fresh pita bread this is a great way to start the evening.

Upland features a variety of outstanding entrees, but two of my favorites are the burgers and the macaroni.  My favorite is the Bad Elmer’s burger, with sharp cheddar, bacon, and a bbq sauce made with Bad Elmer’s porter.  The patty’s are quite large, well cooked, and exploding with flavor.  I recommend ordering the buffalo burger, coming from a herd in the area, which is a little leaner and provides a slightly different taste.  The fries, are beer battered, perfectly seasoned, with a light but crunchy exterior and a chewy interior they are the perfect accompaniment.  Another highlight is the Wit Macaroni and Cheese,  which is probably the best pure macaroni I have yet encountered.  The cheese is not overly done and what really makes the dish is the use of the upland wheat beer in the sauce and a little garlic, the result is perfection.

The Wit Macaroni and Cheese. Sauce is upland wheat beer, mozzarella, cheddar-jack, garlic. You won't find a better macaroni.

In addition to the standard menu Upland rotates in new specials each week.  On my most recent trip I tried their version of spaghetti and meatballs.  Pasta has always been my absolute favorite food, and nothing compares to my mother’s meatballs, so I had no choice but to try Upland’s version.  The meatballs were a unique combination of beef, buffalo and Italian sausage that provided a surprising amount of spice and were cooked to a point where they were still tender and flavorful (a common problem with meatballs is cooking them until they try out).  The sauce was a delightful combination of marinara with Parmesan and some spices that resulted in a creamy hybrid which perfectly complimented the meatballs, resulting in a dish that is second only to my mother’s.

On one last note, Upland also features a unique dessert of bacon ice cream, produced special by the Chocolate Moose (a local ice cream shop that will be discussed later).  It is blend of vanilla ice cream with small bits of bacon which provide a nice salty, smokiness.  While the combination sounds weird, it really works.  If you love bacon, this is something you must try at least once.

Beer battered fish and chips. Excellent.

For overall atmosphere, food quality and variety, as well as the hand crafted brews, this is the best full dining experience you can find in Bloomington.  A trip to town is not complete without a visit here.   Information about the current menu and beer list, as well as special events can be found here.

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The Happiest Pig


The PIG, at Kirkwood and Indiana

I have only really developed an appreciation for pork based foods (not including bacon and sausage) in the last 6 years, as it was not something I ate a lot of growing up.  But then I spent 4 years as an undergraduate at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa (roll tide!) where the pulled pork and pork ribs are phenomenal (this will be the subject of a future post), and a summer in Germany where sausage and schnitzel are a dietary staple.

I was thus incredibly excited when I discovered THE HAPPY PIG in Bloomington.  I first made the discovery in February of 2011 while walking to a different restaurant.  It was lunch time and it was snowing, and right by the Sample Gates (corner of Kirkwood and Indiana) I saw two guys operating a food cart called the Happy Pig.  I knew this had to be good.  I was not able to go that day due to other plans, and then it took about a week of hunting to find the cart again (it is now much easier to find, location details are at the bottom).

But it was absolutely worth the wait!!! For my first meal I had the signature item, the Notorious P.I.G.  It consists of two slices of crispy pork belly, a sunny side up egg, local maple syrup, served between two slices of homemade sourdough bread.  The pork comes from a near-by farm and it was cooked perfectly, tender inside, crispy outside, some fat for flavor but not overly much.  The combination of the egg yolk, syrup and pork as  quite unique and and absolute pleasure to eat.  One of my top sandwich experiences, period.

THE Notorious P.I.G.

This cart was opened in late 2010 by two local chefs who at the time also worked at Restaurant Talent (an upscale restaurant in Bloomington specializing in local products.  A little out of a student budget but at some point I will get there for a review).  They now do this full time.  What makes the Happy Pig unique is that it is high end restaurant quality food (better then most restaurants) with fresh local ingredients served at affordable prices on the street.  The chefs are very creative and constantly change the menu.  The mostly only do pork but sometimes chicken, and vegetarian options.  Other favorites of mine include bolognese sauce with pasta, pulled pork sliders, pork patty melt, pork-mac-and-cheese sandwich, and their biscuits and gravy (the best I have ever had, great homemade biscuit, gravy loaded with local sausage and well seasoned with a surprisingly spicy kick).

But the true treat at the Happy Pig is the rare occasion they do RIBS!!!  They do them beer-brined, wet rubbed and smoked, braised till tender and then finished on the grill to give them a nice crisp.  The sauce is made from the braising liquid.  Then served with buttermilk potato salad and slaw.  The ribs fall off the bone and are perfectly tender.  The sauce could use a little more kick but the rib meat has no comparison, I still dream of these ribs, and cannot wait for their return.

Braising the Pork Belly. YUM!!! This and the above images were pulled from the Happy Pig Facebook.

Finding the Pig can be a challenge.  It is easiest to locate them on Facebook or Twitter as times and location change.  They also post the menu.  Below are their typical locations. NOTE: Cash is recommended but they do also take cards for a small extra charge.

They serve lunch usually Tue-Thurs from 12-3 at Kirkwood and Indiana (by the sample gates).

Friday and Saturday nights they are outside Atlas bar (4th and college) from midnight till 3am.  If you have not been there late night on a weekend you are missing out.  There is no better way to finish a night than at the Pig, try it and thank me later.

In the summer the Pig is at the local Farmers market downtown (will highlight this again during the season).

SPECIAL NOTE: The Pig now serves BRUNCH on Sundays from 12-4 inside Atlas (4th and college).  This is a true treat.  Chedder Chive Waffles! Crispy Duck omlette with goat cheese! and PORK BELLY EGGS BENEDICT!! And many others.  Breakfast is my favorite food, and eggs benedict the absolute favorite, so this brunch menu will be reviewed in more detail in a separate post.  THIS IS A MUST TRY.

Conclusion: EAT AT THE HAPPY PIG!!!  Support a local business and local suppliers, and experience some of the best pork you will find anywhere, on a budget!

It’s Darn Good


I want to begin by highlighting my absolute favorite restaurant in Bloomington.  The place is DARN GOOD SOUP, located directly downtown on the west side of the court house at 107 N. College Ave., open daily from 11 am to 7:30 pm.

I first ate at this place in March 2011, the week that it opened.  I had seen the signs for a couple months and knew that any place claiming to be darn good was worth a try.  The restaurant is very small, containing a few booths and then a serving counter at the back.  On the walls are a variety of soup related artwork.  The dining experience is very simple, walk to the counter and pick from 10-12 soups that are written on a chalkboard.  The soup is then ladled into a Styrofoam cup and served on a plastic tray with a complimentary piece of white or multi-grain bread.  The experience is very much like the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld, except that Darn Good Soup has more atmosphere, the owner is far friendlier, and I can only imagine that the soups are even better.

From my first bite I was in love.  My first soup experience was the beef bourguignon, and it was incredible.  The beef was tender and well cooked, there was a generous amount of mushrooms, and the flavors were marvelous.  My friend Jorge was also there and went with the potato leek soup, it was simple but well seasoned and satisfying.  We proceeded to come back for the next five days bringing everyone we knew.

The best thing about Darn Good Soup is that no two days are the same.  Each day Nels, the owner and chef, has a selection of 10-12 soups with some vegan, vegetarian, and meat options.  All soups are made from scratch with fresh ingredients.  Any given soup lasts for 3-4 days before it rotates off the menu and is replaced by something new.  What is amazing is that even after nine months of operation Nels continues to come out with new soups every couple weeks or sooner.  By my count I have tried over 50!! different soups since it opened.  These soups range from traditional ones like chili, minestrone, broccoli cheddar, and chicken tortilla to more unique items like WEST AFRICAN CHICKEN PEANUT, BORSCHT, BAKSO (an Indonesian soup), CAULIFLOWER CURRY, and many more.

SOME PERSONAL FAVORITE SOUPS: (But all are excellent, and I may revisit this list in future posts)

WEST AFRICAN CHICKEN PEANUT: Very rich stew filled with peanut putter, some spices, green pepper I think, sweet potato, okra, and chicken.  An outstanding soup.

YELLOW SQUASH and SHRIMP BISQUE: One of my absolute favorites, packed full of shrimp and well complimented by a creamy yellow squash puree.

BORSCHT: I have not tasted another borscht to compare it too, but this soup is outstanding.  Full of beets and beef, and served with sour cream this is an excellent winter soup.  According to my friend Manny, this would be his last meal if he was ever on death row.

GREENIE BEANIE WEENIE:  Much better then the name sounds.  Kale, andouille sausage, beans, very flavorful.

TRIPLE ROASTED EGGPLANT: roasted eggplant, roasted red pepper, roasted garlic, no more needs to be said.

TWICE BAKED POTATO SOUP: Its a liquid baked potato.  cheese, sour cream, chive, bacon, pepper, a very hardy soup.

THE BEST CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP EVER:  that is the actual name of the soup, but it is an accurate title, trust me.

Other Favorites: Sausage and Pepper, Lamb and Barley stew, Posole, Keilbasa and cabbage, Hot and Sour chicken, and many, many more

I have never experienced a soup that was not at least good, and many have been absolutely brilliant.  Nels is constantly looking for new ideas and even old standards are still changing as he tweaks the recipe.  So each dining experience is truly unique.  In addition to the outstanding soup, he also bakes his own fresh bread (both the white and multigrain are excellent and hold up well for dipping), bakes fresh cookies, and makes his own salad dressing to go with side salads that are available to order.  And all this for very low prices.  A 12 oz serving of any soup can be had for under $6 including tax.

While I have always enjoyed soup, I had never experienced it quite like this until I came to Darn Good Soup.  This is the one restaurant I have ever encountered that I could actually eat at every single day and not get tired.  This will be the last meal I eat before I ever leave Bloomington.  This is a must eat for anyone within a reasonable distance of Bloomington, Indiana.  I could keep going on about this place and the soup for a long time but I will try to stop the rambling.

To Summarize: OUTSTANDING FOOD, FUN ATMOSPHERE, OUTSTANDING OWNER (I recommend chatting with Nels, he is very personable and passionate about his work).

GO HERE IMMEDIATELY and then let me know if its as good as advertised.



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The Beginning

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Those who know me know that I love to discuss all things food related.  One of me favorite things is discovering new dishes are places to eat and then sharing with others.  When it comes to food there is very little I do not enjoy and I am always interested in new experiences.  So after spending a few months contemplating the idea, I’ve decided it is time to start a blog.  I hope to use this to share my passion for food, and write down some of my thoughts and experiences before I forget them.

At this point I am a far more experienced eater then cooker, so this will mostly focus on restaurant experiences.  Although I am in the process of broadening my cooking skills.  The main focus will be on the food in Bloomington Indiana, where I currently live, and the surrounding area.  There is far too much outstanding food in Bloomington for a small college town in rural Indiana.  And sharing this discovery is one of the main reasons for starting this blog.  However, I search for good food anywhere I go and so I will also attempt to cover other noteworthy experiences in other locations in Indiana and beyond.

I prefer to spend my time talking about food I love and dining experiences that leave an impact, and as such I will probably not be writing many negative reviews.  I hope I will be able to convey my passion for food and maybe also learn about some new eating experiences through this blog.

Next up I will discuss one of my favorite food categories, SOUP, and also reveal my absolute favorite restaurant in Bloomington…