Talk Up Indiana’s Cool North
It’s eclectic. It’s interesting. It’s worth bragging about.
“Indiana’s Cool North” is seven counties at the top of the Hoosier State. It’s an incredibly eclectic place where you can ride in an Amish buggy, gamble at a Vegas-style casino, or visit one of the country’s most stored college campuses — all in the same day.
So we asked what people love most about Indiana’s Cool North. It could have been about a specific destination, an annual event, or even a favorite road trip route.
These are the Top 10 entries that received the most votes.
1. Ice Skating.
Family ice skating at four indoor ice rinks in South Bend, Indiana. Bring your family to South Bend’s Ice Box Skating Rink on Friday evenings, Irish Figure skating will furnish your skates. Learn how to glide, spin and win at #LearnToSkateUSA. Join Irish Figure Skating Club and go for the gold at the 2017 Skate Games of America. Imagine skating through the snowflakes at Northern Indiana’s outdoor ice skating trail, rink and warming housing at city of Elkhart’s NIBCO Ice Park. Glide along downtown NIBCO Ice Trail past restaurant and Elkhart River Walk. Settle down with a hot chocolate watching your family maneuver the long ice skating trail and spin on the ice rink. Outdoor fun starts with December 3, 2016 the Elkhart City Christmas Tree Lighting and Parade. Join in Saturday night Tree Lighting skate. Families enjoy the physical workout the ice skating gives all members of your family. All sizes of skates are available at South Bend’s Ice Box, Notre Dame Compton Family Ice Arena and City of Elkhart’s NIBCO Ice Park. Go to #LearnToSkateUSA to get your family enrolled in learn to ice skate lessons. See if there are hockey tickets available to cheer on the Notre Dame University Men’s NCAA Hockey Team in the country’s best NCAA hockey arena. Marvel at perfect precision of Notre Dame’s Irish Synchronized Skating Team at “Irish On Ice” annual ice show held every spring. Enjoy an ice show like the ones that previously toured the nation. Twirls, spins, Olympic jumps and comedy routines prevail on the ice. See Irish synchronized Skating team give their award winning competitive routines. Join the cool kids on ice as Irish Figure Skating Clubs prepare for competition. IRISH Figure Skating Club brought home three gold and one silver medal from the 2016 State Games. Learn how to skate, spin, and win at the 2017 State Games of America. Classes are available for adults and children as young as two. Learn beginner skills, advanced figure skating skills or hockey skating skills on Friday nights with Irish Figure Skating Club. More information at #LearnToSkateUSA. Families keep their teens excited with ice time. Teens work on learning the moves that they see from Olympic stars Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold perform on TV. Since Olympic figure skating involves sparkling dresses and latest music, it’s easy to get teens on Northern Indiana ice.
Submitted by: RYMEYER
2. The Different Seasons.
The coolest thing to do in NWI (Northwest Indiana) in the spring is attending a First Friday Art Walk in Michigan City, when everyone is thrilled to be outside. In the summer, jumping into Lake Michigan with your whole body because it’s too cold to walk into. In fall, hiking the Bailey Chelberg farm and watching leaves fall around the cemetery. In winter, gearing up to play outside on a snow day. We’re always lucky enough to have a couple.
Submitted by: NICHOLECHERRY
3. Porter County.
Often overlooked but never forgotten — that is, once you’ve explored! Northwest Indiana is the perfect destination for summer of all fun! Is it sunny? Spend the day at one of our treasured Lake Michigan beaches and follow that up by hitting a couple of the local wineries and eateries — make sure not to miss Running Vines and Pasta by Albano in downtown Chesterton! Got more energy and a driver!! Hit Blue Chip casino for some awesome night life of dancing, gambling and people watching. The memories you make will make you return again and again… And you’ll never run out of places to go and things to experience! NWI is cool and we can’t wait to see you!
Submitted by: KIMSUE1119
4. Amish Country.
The coolest thing to do is to visit Amish country. Everyone needs to get back to the beginning and get their batteries recharged. For several years my women’s group have gone to Amish country for our weekend retreats. Getting back to the basics makes it easier to recharge with God and the wonderful things He has created. Unfortunately, our church has closed and now the retreats have stopped. I am so wanting to take a weekend away in Amish country to recharge my mind, body, and soul, back to the basics of the good things God has created for us and stop living for a weekend in the busy/rush world.
Submitted by: SWHITESIDE
5. Unforgettable Notre Dame Trip.
My Northern Indiana experience was the first time my dad, my brother, and I went to see a game at Notre Dame back in 2012. We drove all night from Pennsylvania to see the season opener against Purdue. I’ll never forget waking up in the car as we arrived in South Bend and seeing the sun rising over the Notre Dame campus. During our time tailgating and exploring the campus, I was able to experience first-hand the kind of hospitality and kindness from locals that Indiana is known for. A few years later, dad passed away. I know how much being able to finally fulfill this lifelong dream meant to him. I cannot wait to do the same thing with my own children one day and share with them an experience like no other.
Submitted by: MJBUCHHEIT89
6. A Day in South Bend.
“What is there to do? I’d run the ‘Bend if I were you.” Running and biking in “Indiana’s Cool North” is an awesome experience. Trust me I would know. I have 38 years’ worth of miles on these old knees exploring this hidden gem area of the Midwest. From the sandy shores of Washington Park in Michigan City, to the challenging terrain of Imagination Glen Park in Portage, Indiana, south to Potato Creek Skate Park in North Liberty, to the beautiful downtown parks in the city with a heart (Elkhart), I’ve explored them all. What you will gain is a sense of (if you chose to slow down from automobile speed) is that everywhere you go there is not only much to do and explore but you are met with beauty, history, and an overwhelming sense that a long time ago many before us made plans to share it with those that would follow in the decades and centuries to come. Let me give you just a sample. Saturday morning 1 mile gets me to the Linebacker Inn on the edge of ND campus in South Bend, Indiana. Since the 1960′s this unassuming building has been the place to celebrate the big win or lament the tragic loss of our famed local college football team. Do I hear the fight song playing? Keep the feet moving and mile 2 gets me to the Golden Dome, the Grotto, and Sacred Heart Basilica on the ND campus. I’m not overly religious or at all interested in architecture but I have goose-bumps just from the visual impact of the natural beauty. The next mile takes me to the toll road entrance. Big whoopee right? Except right next to it is the beginning of an amazing trail called Bluestem, an 8-foot-wide paved 2-mile trail takes me north through Roseland’s quiet neighborhoods, over Juday Creek, a natural corridor made and maintained for the likes of me. Left on Darden Rd, Mile 6 gets me to the mighty St. Joe River!! Ok, it’s no Mississippi, but the swath of green it brings with it through my city, not to mention the run of the steel-head down from Lake Michigan, is picturesque. I won’t be surprised to see the boat launch full as I turn left on riverside. Oh yeah, that old metal and wood foot bridge I just crossed? That was the first bridge to cross the St. Joe River. Originally it was the Jefferson St. bridge several miles south in downtown South Bend. Some one really smart new I was coming…eventually. The left on Riverside is inspiring as I know ahead of me lies 3 miles of river’s edge running. What is that little swampy area to my right? Just a little picnic park named Pin Hook. How quaint. I wonder if the great explorer LaSalle thought it was “quaint” when he used it to portage all the boats from his exploration to go further west hundreds of years ago when South Bend was just a trading post on a river. Up on the left cliff across the river is the backside of St. Mary’s College and Holy Cross College, I see they are still always careful to blend in with the natural beauty rather than replace it. Another left on Angela Bridge and I know it’s been at least 9 miles. Decision time. Head for home or take the right onto Northshore? Great historical river front homes, the view across the river to Leeper Park’s big old growth trees, OK right it is! I can see the Round-About with the “Welcome to South Bend” letters and the beautiful landscaping. Now here is a town that has some pride! Note to self: I do need to practice the whole “round-about-driving thing.” I guess they are here to stay so trying to out wait them is no longer a good plan. Up Howard St. hill to the East Bank Trail, then downhill to the east race waterway. Looks like they are setting up for White Water rafting. How many urban city parks and recreation departments have whitewater rafting available? Under the bridge into Howard park. I see the veterans war memorial right in front of the playground and the ice rink. Too hot for that right now but I think the new one might be open year round? I should fact check that. This narrow section of the trail along the river is sort of tricky, but where else do you get to run next to stone walls built by the Public Works Administration 85 years ago? Mile 12. Ok that’s it, I’m stopping. Farmers market is open. Local fresh fruit and pastries for me. I’ll walk home, after all it is a beautiful day in South Bend, and the zoo is less than a mile…
Submitted by: MATTDG438
7. Urban Adventure Games.
Competing in the Urban Adventure Games!! The Amazing Race with the local feel. You never know what you are going to do or see until you arrive. My wife and I have had a great time the last few years running/biking this fun and exciting event. Your partner and yourself can ride from Four Winds Field in South Bend to Central Park in Mishawaka to The Compton Family Ice Arena at Notre Dame and many points in between. Scale down a fire house, batting practice, wrap your partner in toilet paper, do some BMX tricks, drop and do random exercises, ride a canoe, go down a water slide and so much more!! You can be super competitive or just out for a fun ride, anyone can do it! Plus, it’ll get you and your friend or relative closer by the end of the race. TRY IT!!
Submitted by: RYNO23ND
8. Lake Michigan.
The coolest thing to do in Northern Indiana is to visit the southern shores of Lake Michigan. Walk in the soft, singing sand on the edge of her water. Search for crinoids, beach glass and pretty stones on her shore. Swim out to a sandbar, and play on a lovely, soft shelf of sand in her waters. Climb one of her well known, living sand dunes. Take a swim in our lake’s calm, smooth, blue or green water. Body surf in her wild and wonderful waves! Lake Michigan is a true beauty in Northern Indiana.
Submitted by: KGARNICA3211
9. Weekend Trip.
The “Coolest” thing about NWI (Northwest Indiana) is all the things people can do! You could start your day waking up at Blue Chip, enjoy an enormous breakfast bar. Head out for a run along our National Lakeshore. Drive to Nappanee browse the creative handmade goods. Still have time to get dinner in South Bend and view Notre Dame Grounds. For the night owls, return to Blue Chip and enjoy great entertainment at The Rocks.
Submitted by: GETCLEAN66
10. LaPorte County.
LaPorte County offers many great lakes to fish, swim at the beach, or watch boat races. Some of the best orchards and farm fresh produce. Farmers market. Parks with concerts for family to enjoy. Casinos for adult fun. Great antique stores to shop in to find wonderful deals. Excellent restaurants. Great festivals and events. Excellent museum. Michigan City Zoo. Beautiful Lake Michigan beach and light house. So many great places to see and visit and is family friendly the 4th of July parade is a great example. Cruise night for the car lovers is a fun night out of the town. If you like to shop check out the light house mall for all your outlet store needs. The LaPorte County fair with concerts and carnival rides and plenty of animals of all kinds. LaPorte County is a great place to live and visit. Brewery’s and outdoor places to eat and have a drink in the summer sun. Flea markets, theatres, museums, fresh cheese and meat markets in the Amish country. Sand dunes along Lake Michigan. Bike trails hiking trails.
Submitted by: MICHAELMANDY85
Eating My Way through Northern Indiana, One Slice at a Time
On June 13 and 14, Chicago-based guidebook author and travel journalist Kate Silver ventured through the seven counties of Northern Indiana to choose a winner of the Northern Indiana Pizza Wars. She selected Iechyd Da Brewery in Elkhart as the winner and awarded honorable mention to The Café at The Bowling Alley in Warsaw.
Here’s the story of her journey.
The task was serious: Judge the Pizza Wars competition in Northern Indiana and select a winner for the Critic’s Choice award.
The competition is the brainchild of the Northern Indiana Tourism Development Commission, and the goal is to drive tourism to each of the seven counties it represents. At the end, NITDC will create a Pizza Trail, guiding visitors to taste each county champion.
This is the second “food war” NITDC has dreamed up, and if the success of last year’s Burger Wars is foreshadowing, the impact will be enormous for each of the pizza joints I’m to visit. The county burger champions from 2014 reported dramatic upticks in sales.
In the Hoosier state, food is serious business.
Over the course of two days, June 13 and 14, I traveled around Indiana, leaving a trail of pizza crumbs and dribbles of sauce in Howe, Middlebury, Warsaw, Bremen, Elkhart, Granger, Michigan City and Chesterton, scoring pizzas on their crust, sauce, cheese, toppings, history/ambiance and execution. At each location, owners were encouraged to serve the pizza that best represents their business. At some places that meant one pizza. At other places, it meant six. All of which were remarkably different.
Along the way, I learned this: Indiana knows its pizza, and each of the pizzeria owners has his and her own intriguing story.
Choosing a “winner” wasn’t going to be easy.
Here’s what I discovered along the way.
Living in Howe, Indiana, surrounded by Amish country, TJ Iannarelli knew that opening an Italian restaurant was a gamble. But that’s exactly what he did 12 years ago, wooing even his meat-and-potatoes loving neighbors with his authentic Italian recipes—including pizza—adapted from his Italian grandmother. Iannarelli invited me back into the kitchen to watch him hand-stretch his crust, which he covered in garlic and olive oil and then topped with onions, green peppers, tomatoes and cheese. It came off the conveyor belt oven in minutes, and the chewy-crisp crust, “really a bread,” explains Iannarelli, is as good as it gets.
The restaurant, which sits in a cozy house built in 1845, has become a popular gathering spot for its food and regular live entertainment for the town of about 250. In fact, the neighbors surrounding the restaurant have made a habit of contributing to the fresh ingredients on the menu, leaving basil, tomatoes, chili peppers and even pears outside the back door. “You never know what you’re going to find,” Iannarelli says.
That devotion goes beyond the county line. Iannarelli says the restaurant has developed such a loyal following that customers drive in from as far away as Fort Wayne—nearly 65 miles away—eat pizza (or the restaurant’s signature lasagna) and then turn around and head home.
While he’s thought about expanding the business, he ultimately decided he likes it as it is—an extension of his family. “We kind of like being small here,” he smiles.
The front wall at Rulli’s is crowded with team photos dating back 28 years, when the family opened their first carryout joint. Owners Sam and Mary Rulli’s kids grew up here, and now their grandkids weave through the black-and-white checkered tables, gleefully, in front of the Italy-inspired murals and bricks painted carefully on the walls.
Sam got his start in the restaurant business 33 years ago, when he worked at his family’s restaurant, Pasquale Rulli’s, in Mishawaka, Indiana. His recipes have been passed down from his Italian grandparents, and you can see his grandmother’s photo on the wall, stirring sauce. Sam says his grandfather taught him to make crust nearly 40 years ago.
One thing is clear at Rulli’s: they’re not afraid to get experimental with their top-notch toppings—nor are they afraid to attempt to stuff a judge! They loaded the table with five pizzas for me to try: a Margherita pizza (tomato, fresh basil and mozzarella), Nana’s Sweet pizza (Vidalia onion sauce, chicken, onion and tomato), Di Gala Interno Boca, which, the Rullis tell me, translates to “party in your mouth” (diced green peppers, mushrooms, onions, pepper rings, pineapple, tomatoes, olives), Papa’s Spicy Pizza (giardinara, tomato, pepperoni and onion and hot sauce) and Spaghetti Pie (a deep dish topped with spaghetti, meatballs, marinara and mozzarella—sounds odd, but it totally works). Even with all of those competing flavors, that pie that rang supreme in the bunch was the simplest: the Margherita truly demonstrated the brightness of the sauce, the quality of the cheese, the freshness of the basil and the balance of all the ingredients melding together. I started out limiting myself to just one bite of each of the pizzas, but in the end, threw caution to the wind and ate a full piece of the Margherita.
The Café at The Bowling Alley
It’s true, I did a double take on this one. A bowling alley makes the best pizza in the county? In a town with more than a dozen pizza joints? And a population of 14,000?
Turns out, Bryan Bibler knows pizza—and bowling alleys, for that matter. Bibler tells me that he worked at the bowling alley as a kid, and recently returned as the food and beverage manager, with the goal of ramping up the pizza program. He brings to the lanes 25 years of poultry perfection—he runs his own barbecue catering business—and boy, can you taste that expertise in his Bib’s Smoked BBQ Chicken Pizza. Served on a thick, focaccia-like crust, slathered in his secret BBQ sauce, piled high with cheese and tender smoked diced chicken and then topped with onion tanglers, it should come as no surprise that this 16-inch pie looks a total gut buster. But somewhere, somehow, the flavors—onion tanglers and all—come across as more of a symphony. Not usually a lover of BBQ pizza, this one had me at the first bite. Three pizzerias in, I couldn’t stop myself from finishing my entire enormous piece.
It’s no wonder The Bowling Alley has become a destination for pizza. During bowling season, Bibler tells me that seven different leagues play there, and he’ll regularly make 100 to 125 pizzas a week. Others will just stop in for a pie to go. “We have a captive audience,” he says, humbly. “Our bowlers are just tremendous.”
The same could be said for the pizza.
Sitting in the front booth as I walk in, a man, who is waiting to pick up a pizza, says that the phone has been ringing non-stop with to-go orders since he showed up a few minutes ago, right as the joint opened. As I settle into a seat, people come and go, picking up their pizzas, which fill the space with a kind of Italian ambrosia.
The Wooden Peel, it turns out, is an institution in Bremen. It opened in 1975, and owner Kathy Beutel-Galloway’s parents bought it in 1982. She practically grew up here, and bought it from her parents in 1998. She says the specialty of the pizzeria is sausage, which they blend and cook themselves (they tried changing it once and customers caused an uproar). Today, her daughter and granddaughter work here, alongside her.
The barbecue chicken pizza I try, with barbecue sauce, grilled chicken, green onion, cheddar and mozzarella, is picture perfect. Thin and crispy, it’s cooked to perfection with just the generous amounts of cheese and a barbecue sauce that cuts through the other flavors with a Western-style “howdy.” A true contender, I can understand the buzz about this place.
Also notable: the cheeky décor. As I head towards the door—and towards the fifth tasting of the day—I take a photo of the pizza-eating cartoon pig on the wall. I post it on Facebook with the words, “self portrait.” Then I soldier on, headed toward the next battleground of the Pizza Wars.
Iechyd Da Brewing
The laid-back Iechyd Da Brewing—pronounced “Yacky Dah”—turns out to be the ideal finishing spot for the day. There, owner Summer Lewis tells me that when she and her husband, Chip, opened the brewery three years ago, they expected beer to be the draw and the food an added perk. Today, she says they’re finding both food and beer have a near equal appeal. With an emphasis on using local ingredients, mixed with an adventurous palate and flavor combinations (like their tomatillo and chorizo pizza), the brewpub has drawn a devoted following.
I become one of that devoted following as I bite into The Kidwelly, a pizza inspired by an appetizer Summer had when traveling in Wales with her husband, before opening the pizzeria (his Welsh heritage dates back to 1635, and the photos they took on the trip line the walls of the brewpub. Many of the beers they brew are also inspired by Britain). The crust, so light it defies gravity, is topped with rosemary oil, ham, smoked Gouda, mozzarella, arugula and balsamic. The sultry smell of smoke and tart vinegar tease my nose as I lift the first piece to my mouth. The local peppery greens punctuate the salty meat and light sprinkling of cheese. The pizza is, in fact, so light it almost feels quenching. Even though it’s the fifth and final tasting of the day.
Summer tells me that she was a little intimidated to put pizza on the menu of a brewpub in Elkhart, considering the heavy Italian influences of the town. By the time I leave the place, which is on its way towards being packed at around 6 on a Saturday night, it’s clear that she and Chip made the right decision.
To drive by Giannetto’s, you might not give it much thought—it shares a building with a gas station off State Road 331, after all. But as soon as you walk in the door and take in the roomy, well-appointed restaurant filled old photos, natural light and folksy red-and-white checkered tablecloths, you forget the petrol proximity.
Victor Giannetto explains that the restaurant serves the type of made-with-love food that he’d serve guests in his own home. Interestingly, Giannetto is the only Italian among the Pizza Wars finalists who doesn’t rely on recipes dating back generations. Rather, he approached pizza from an entrepreneurial perspective.
In 1978, he tasted stuffed pizza for the first time at a place called Nancy’s in the Chicago area. “I loved it. I couldn’t get over it,” he says. And he set to work, creating his own recipe and, along with the help of his family, building his business around it. As we’re talking, the thick-as-a-casserole Chicago-style stuffed pie is delivered, smothered in red sauce. I dig in, stretching cheese like loose rubber bands, and declare, within a few bites, that this pie could give Chicago deep-dish joints a run for their money.
In fact, since winning the Pizza Wars for his county, Giannetto says he’s been slammed with business. On the weekend I was there, he said had to stop all carryout orders because he was running out of ingredients.
Regardless of how busy he is, Giannetto says he loves coming to the restaurant and watching people take pleasure in the food he created. He adds that his work hasn’t always been so lighthearted: Prior to becoming a restaurateur, Giannetto says he spent years working in a funeral home. Today, he’s relieved to be able to say to customers, “Thanks for coming. Hope to see you again!”
Michigan City, Indiana
The first Albano’s opened in the house of Jim Albano’s grandmother, Rosalie, in 1957.
Without her consent, I might add.
She was away visiting family when Jim’s father, also named Jim, and brother, Russell, decided to sell their ’54 Buick as collateral for a loan to start up a pizzeria—in their mother’s house.
Today, Albano’s Villa—which has since moved to a different location—is an institution with three locations and a rich history. Albano tells me that the one of the busiest nights, ever, for the pizzeria was in 1969, when NASA first landed on the moon. That night, people in Michigan City were sitting at home, glued to their TV, eating Albano’s Villa pizza.
That very recipe has been passed down and is still served today. “The customers don’t want changes,” says Albano. So he continues creating the same spice blends that his father and uncle did before him, making everything from scratch, even grinding the meat for the sausage, which he also spices, himself. He serves me that sausage on two different pies: one plain sausage, the other “Albano’s Masterpiece,” with sausage, pepperoni, mushroom, onion, bell pepper, black olive and tomato. The thin crust is cut in squares like the tavern-style pizza popular in Chicago, and the sauce, which is made with a secret blend of spices, strikes a careful balance with the rich sausage and oodles of cheese.
The dark, grotto-like restaurant is filled with nostalgia, as families bring the next generation in to share the pizza they grew up on. Judging from the pizza I had here, there’s no question that Rosalie would be proud—even if hosting a restaurant in her home wasn’t exactly her dream.
This isn’t the first pizza war Duneland Pizza Owner Craig Berg has been a part of. When he was 24, he left his job as a manager at a pizzeria, interested in opening his own joint. “I felt like I could do a better job than them,” he says. It wasn’t long after he opened, he says, that someone—he’s not naming names—started cutting his phone line so he couldn’t take deliveries. (He says the rival spot went out of business within a year.)
Today, Duneland Pizza has been open for 43 years and employs Craig’s daughter and grandson. The restaurant feels a bit like an art gallery, with the owners’ stunning photos of the dunes lining the walls, and driftwood from area beaches serving as a reminder of time and place. While sharing his history, Berg serves up a number of different pizzas, showcasing the many different crusts he creates—hand-rolled, thin, whole wheat, cornmeal and deep dish. The variety is impressive, but two are standouts: the hand-rolled crust, with its light, pliant feel and punchy yeasty flavor and the characteristically crisp cracker-like thin crust. All are topped with a slightly sweet sauce and an array of fresh toppings.
While the pizza here is stellar, so is the character of the owner. Berg tells me a story that demonstrates the power of community, even among competitors: a few weeks ago, when the votes were rolling in for the county’s best, he and his long-time friend, Jim Chaddock, the co-owner of the Rolling Stonebaker (which was the other leading Pizza Wars contender in Porter County) decided to kick the competition up a notch. They set up shop in Duneland’s parking lot, offering free samples and encouraging people to make donations to Dunes Learning Center, a non-profit that immerses kids in nature in the area.
In just two hours they raised $1,300, using the power of Pizza Wars for the greater good.
Pizza has long brought families together. It’s heartening to see it do the same for a community—and that doesn’t just apply to Chesterton.
On my journey to each of the seven counties, I was impressed not just by the pizza prowess, but by the enthusiasm, pride and devotion that came from every single county. It was so thick you could practically taste it. And that, to me, is the true prize of the Pizza Wars.
Kate Silver is the author of 2015 Frommer’s EasyGuide to Chicago. A freelance journalist, her work appears regularly in Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Midwest Living and other publications.