A politically active reader wrote in, wondering where he should fuel up next Saturday after he Gets Out The Vote for important presidential nominee [REDACTED] in hotly contested Gary, Indiana. Gary is known for many things — its rapidly shuttering steel mills, poverty, malaise and generalized decay — but much less so for its culinary offerings.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that you’re really dead-set on eating in Gary, as opposed to Hammond or East Chicago or Hobart or Portage or, heavens forfend, Valparaiso. Because that would make this too easy! And obviously, you don’t need our help finding the local Bennigan’s (apparently one of the most popular restaurants in town), although it’s worth pointing out that the Pepe’s in Gary was the company’s first NWI location when it opened thirty-two years ago.
Chains aside, there are credible indigenous dining options if you look hard enough. Our first suggestion comes from an encyclopedic post on LTHForum on Coney Island hot dog stands around Gary. Coney dogs are covered in beanless chili and have very little to do with Coney Island, Brooklyn; they first started to appear in Michigan around World War I, when place names were more appropriable, and continue to be popular throughout the Rust Belt (recently opened Cincinnati-themed bar Cinners offers Coneys for $2). In Gary’s heyday, there were Coney stands on every other street corner (okay, not really), but in modern times, your best bet is probably Koney King, spelling it wrong since 1920. A Koney Dog runs $1.99 here, and you can eat it at the countertop atop totally mod red and blue diner stools. Be sure to arrive before 6pm, because this is not a late-night destination.
While you can’t get anything pret a manger at Southern-style butcher Tennessee Country Meats, you can get a variety of exotica like salted spare ribs and the coarse, rustic, Hammond, IN-made sausage delightfully called “Bolshevik.” You can serve it at your next USSR-themed soiree!
Finally, the somewhat out-of-place Miller Bakery Cafe has been serving fine food to Garyites (precious few letters away from Gary-itis, a common affliction) since the 1980s, when it took over a space formerly occupied by the Miller Bakery. If you thought you couldn’t get wood-grilled organic quail stuffed with apple and prosciutto and served on lentils with a cherry liqueur-green peppercorn demiglace in Gary, you were dead wrong. But the fact that you can get it as an appetizers for $6.50 is truly astounding. Mains include a 7 Hour Lamb Shank, roasted with a savory spice rub, raisins and Zinfandel served on top a root vegetable hash for $22, and there’s even an attached wine bar if your campaigning runs late.
Have a counterintuitive, hyper-specific query concerning Chicagoland dining? You’ve come to the right place.
Hillary Clinton arrives in Gary [NWI Times]
Pepe’s Gary [Official Site]
Gary IN - Coney Dogs and Urban Decay [LTHForum]
Coney Island Hot Dogs [Wikipedia]
Cinners [Official Site]
Koney King [Google]
Tennessee Country Meats [Google]
Anyone heard of the lunchmeat “bolshevik?” [LTHForum]
Miller Bakery Cafe [Official Site]
[Photo: there are definitely more restaurants signs in Gary than actual restaurants (Vannah Von Terror/flickr)]