The Village Inn
107 S. Main St.
What do you think of when you hear the phrase “country cooking”?
I think of hearty, comfort food. The stuff that lines your ribs and belly for a long day of combine riding and barn raising. Food far from the clutches of San Francisco nanny-state politicians who want to regulate my daily sugar and trans-fat intake. And take away my plastic straw for God’s sake!
In other words, food that tastes good. And fills you up.
Food like mush.
Yeah. I never heard of it either. Tells you what I know about country living.
But I found the perfect place to find out at The Village Inn in the tiny town of Middlebury. Up here among the snow covered cornfields of Northern Indiana, and just a few miles from the Michigan line, you can get your mush, soup and sandwiches – and most importantly – pie.
The Village Inn is this small town’s local gathering spot for families and old guys in John Deere hats. “Home Town Taste with a Home Town Feel” is the saying underneath the sign out front.
This is the kind of place where you don’t have to ask if the mashed potatoes come from a box!
The thought of homemade soup and a sandwich appealed to me on this bitterly cold and snowy day.
My “stuffed pepper” soup was a hearty mishmash of finely ground beef and rice with a few dices of green pepper thrown in. It was just enough spice to keep me warm and interested.
For my sandwich, I ordered their version of the tenderloin sandwich. Tenderloin sandwich is one of those culinary terms that can lead to confusion. It means different things in different regions of America.
If you are in Texas or out West, tenderloin means fillet mignon. In the South and East, tenderloin is a nice cut of pork.
But here in the Midwest, it means you’re about to be served a giant, breaded and deep-fried pork chop on a bun. Think German Weiner Schnitzel on steroids.
The Village Inn’s version certainly wasn’t the best I’ve ever had (that would be in Iowa – just between you and me), but it wasn’t bad. How wrong can you go with a tender piece of deep fried pig anyways?
But it was a bit dry and a bit forgettable.
Of course, there is only one real reason anyone comes to a place like the Village Inn.
My lemon meringue was delicious. So cold and tart it made my teeth hurt.
I felt extra proud of myself because I got the last piece of the day.
No doubt about it. I was satisfied enough to face an afternoon of stall cleaning, fence mending, corn shucking….. Nevermind, a day of business meetings. Yawn.
But I just couldn’t leave without trying that mush. So what is mush?
Mush is an ancient colonial food that dates back almost 350 years. Hearty American pioneers would mix cornmeal and water and cook it into a porridge.
And eat it.
Yeah. You couldn’t just call up Dominos when the cupboard was bare back then.
What is really interesting is that three and a half centuries later, some country folks still eat the stuff.
The Village Inn’s version of mush is poured into a pan, hardened, then cut into rectangular pieces and lightly fried.
It sort of reminded me of fried grits or polenta – only without any flavor.A drizzle of maple syrup livened it up a bit. But mush will definitely not make my top ten list any time soon.
And what about that name? Mush?!
The mush industry could use a better marketing team. Maybe they should hire the guys who came up with the name polenta.
Same basic food item. Much more glamorous name.
On second thought, the overall-wearing farmers of Middlebury probably would never order anything called polenta. They want their mush, just like all twenty generations before them.
And that’s why they call it “comfort food”. There’s comfort in knowing there are still places in America where some things never change.
Rating: Would Wear A Free Shirt.