Like mom (and pop) would make

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Local restaurants a big part of America's soul

Small businesses are the heart and soul of America. And favorites among those industries are the mom and pop restaurants we all love.

The smells of coffee, apple pie and grease mix with friendly greetings as you pass through their doors. They are the diners, the little breakfast nooks, the small town luncheonettes, the rib joints and the neighborhood delicatessens that dot the countryside.

These restaurants are more than a place to eat. They serve as a gathering place for more than just a good meal. Politics, religion and good old gossip are traded in these comfortable spots.

From the early days in Putnam County, local residents as well as DePauw students and staff found a variety of places for eating in Putnam County. Some of those old hangouts are still around in some form or other.

The Monon Restaurant was the first pre-fabricated building in Putnam County. It came to town on a rail car and was up in a day.

The Monon Grill has been a familiar sight for over 60 years. In 1940 when the parents of City Council member Jinsie Bingham built the Monon, it was the first pre-fabricated building in Putnam County.

"It came in on a flatcar. When folks went to work in the morning there was nothing there -- when they came home that night the building was up," said Bingham.

"My dad took his tow truck and pulled the pieces off the railroad car and put it up. I'm sure those steel walls are still underneath that building now," she added.

Bingham's mother Alpha ran the grill for several years. It was open 24 hours a day and was a community gathering place filled with regular customers.

After several years, the Scotts leased it out and eventually sold it.

The quirky 75-seat restaurant still retains the railroad theme that was the reason for its existence when the Monon railroad stopped at the once adjacent Greencastle station.

Today, Bev and Jerry Monnett own the popular diner. The building is essentially the same as when it was built of white enameled steel and fed carloads of train passengers.

It's a sweet spot, filled with antique kitchen and farm equipment hanging from the ceiling. A full-size cutout of James Dean next to an authentic jukebox greets customers as they enter the room. The homey walls are decorated with photos of stars from Shirley Temple to Clark Gable. There is train memorabilia everywhere, including a life-sized conductor dummy in a rocking chair near the cash register.

"While a police officer in the '50s and '60s, the Monon grill was the place the police had coffee at shift changes. It was open 24 hours at that time, Glen Deem and Cliff Torr, Jr. were owners at that time, oh if the walls could talk," wrote Bill Masten about the Monon on the Banner Graphic Web site.

The Monon is located at 814 N. Jackson Street in Greencastle. Call them at 653-8012.

Another beloved mom and pop restaurant is Jackson's Double Decker. It was originally located across from the Alpha Chi Omega House on Locust Street.

This eating spot was started by a man named Decker and carried on by George Williams, Chuck Phillips, Glenn Deem, and later by Bob, Bill, and Richard Jackson.

Today, the restaurant, commonly referred to as "the Double," is located at 1058 Indianapolis Rd. It offers inside dining as well as an outside drive-in.

Jackson's Double Decker started out on Locust Street across from the Alpha Chi Omega House before moving to its current location on Indianapolis Rd.

It's a large restaurant with several rooms and at least three entrances. They are known for their fried chicken dinners. They offer all kinds of home-style food from meatloaf to tacos.

If you don't have time to dine inside you can pull up out back and place an order or call one ahead of time and pick it up without ever leaving your car. You can reach the Double by calling 653-4302.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Old Topper's was the most popular tavern catering to the student population. DePauw men and women flocked to this watering place on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. For a short while it included a small restaurant, the Annex, next door.

But the Annex didn't last, while the bar did.

Several years ago, local developer John Wood opened the restaurant at Old Toppers and brought fine dining to the establishment. After a few years and a couple of owners, Old Toppers Pub and Steakhouse closed again. Last fall the restaurant was revamped and began offering a new menu to patrons.

Both the pub and restaurant offer a great array of food and drink, including homemade French fries, onion rings and breaded mushrooms.

"We have specialty wings, prime rib sandwiches and Italian beef," said new owner Daniel George.

"The steaks and lasagna are also very popular. We're getting lots of repeat customers and that tells me the food is good. We have a great chef onboard."

The old establishment also offers some entertainment especially for those with a 'sixth" sense. It is rumored to be haunted.

Hoosier Paranormal recently investigated the restaurant looking for signs of a ghost known to frequent the spot. The story behind the investigation is that several years ago when a regular customer at the bar passed away he requested that his funeral procession pass by the restaurant and that the hearse stop in front of the building for several minutes. Staff members opened the front and back doors as requested previously by the deceased. Ever since, there has been paranormal activity reported in the restaurant.

One of the investigators had his shoelaces untied and lifted up in the air. Another investigator watched it happening as well.

Old Toppers is located at 727 S. Main Street. They can be reached at 653-9477.

The Bon Ton Restaurant in Bainbridge will celebrate its 75th birthday on Jan. 24, 2011. Gene Hess opened the Bon Ton in January 1936. At that time, Bainbridge had a lot of traffic running through the town on U.S. 36.

In those days, the restaurant was an old trolley car and was open 24 hours a day. Business was brisk, with the restaurant filled daily with local residents and many travelers.

In 1945, Hess sold his business to a fellow who worked for him. The trolley car burned in 1947. Hess, who was then in the construction business, built the building where the Bon Ton now stands, and the restaurant was back in business.

But, as with so many small town businesses along state highways where the traffic moved to the interstates, business at the Bon Ton fell off. When it appeared that the Bon Ton was closing, there was an outcry among Bainbridge residents to keep the restaurant open.

Putnam County residents Mark and Sue Blake took over running the restaurant after it went on the auction block two years ago. The Blakes' relatives purchased the Bon Ton but knew they didn't want to run a restaurant. They offered it to Mark and Sue, who had both worked in restaurant management and wanted to get back to it.

"Now was a good time for us to take over the restaurant. Our four kids are grown and three live out of state. We were ready to try it," said Sue when they took over the restaurant.

Homemade pies are one of their specialties. They also offer homemade meals of fried chicken on Sundays and fried catfish on Friday nights. They have a breakfast menu that includes everyone's favorite morning foods with items like biscuits and gravy, eggs and bacon, sausage and hotcakes.

Their lunch menu has meatloaf and beef manhattans and all the standard sandwiches. Some people say the star of the Bon Ton is their Bon Ton Deluxe Special. Others insist it is the delicious, baked fresh everyday, homemade pies. They even offer sugar free pies. The Bon Ton is located at 110 W. Pat Rady Way (U.S. 36), Bainbridge. They can be reached at 522-3221.

In a world filled with franchise restaurants (and there is nothing wrong with those), there are many folks who prefer the simple ambiance and warmth of the mom and pop restaurants, where customers are often greeted by name.

Because places like these little spots still exist, another generation of folks can experience the delights of the mom and pop restaurants.

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  • A Double Decker Burger still tastes the same as it did when I first tasted one back in the early 60s. Still Good!

    -- Posted by VeggieMD on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 5:55 AM
  • Do one on Bert & Betty's, it's been around a long time too.

    -- Posted by mad-mom on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 7:04 AM
  • This was a cool article. mad-mom suggested one on Bert and Betty's in Fillmore. Years ago, it was owned by Bert Miller and his wife and still bears that name, even though they are long dead. Their breakfasts are great!

    -- Posted by not gullible on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 9:22 AM
  • I agree Bert & Betty's shouldv'e been in this article. It is so good and Jackie is such a nice person and great cook!!!!!!!!!

    -- Posted by coltsfan25 on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 9:46 AM
  • your artical brings back a lot of fond memories, about monon grill, double decker, how about the double decker on campus, and how many of your readers remember the "rondevous" (spelling) i think of e. anderson st. enjoyed your artical very much. bill masten

    -- Posted by bmasten on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 11:04 AM
  • People are complaining about a nice article that the banner has written. Do you know how many reporters the Banner Graphic employees? This story covered a lot of restaurants in the PC area... how can they visit them all? There are deadlines for stories. The reporters have to research and get their facts from their interviews, perhaps the person being interviewed doesn't have the right information anymore.

    -- Posted by livefree90 on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 12:36 PM
  • I do remember when the BonTon was owned by the Bartons and it was great. I personally think the BonTon today is the best restaurant in Putnam County. Every meal I have tried has been great and well worth the drive and money. Bert and Betty's is also good.

    -- Posted by Trying hard on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 12:36 PM
  • Great story...

    Just don't ask to see their kitchens.

    -- Posted by ProblemTransmission on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 2:38 PM
  • What happen to freedom of speech webmaster???

    -- Posted by 1stamendrights on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 3:49 PM
  • Greencastle doesn't offer hardly any variety. The food is all the same. Hamburgers, tenderloins, beef manhattens, steaks, and cheese sticks. We need a restraunt that offers fresh ideas instead of everyday run of the mill food.

    -- Posted by 1stamendrights on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 3:56 PM
  • The Double Decker's food is marginal at best and they actually charged me for water the last time I ate there in 2003. It's good place to eat if you like being stared at by the regulars.

    Greencastle needs an Applebees but it will never happen.

    -- Posted by Harmony Church on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 5:59 PM
  • 1stamendrights and Harmony Church: I think you miss the point. These are places we grew up with and places of family memories. If you would like variety or an Applebees Plainfield and Avon are only 20 minutes away. I personally like my small town.

    -- Posted by worrieddaddy on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 6:49 PM
  • Used to meet my late father-in-law at the Monon for meals about twice a month. What I did not like was all the cigarette smoke in the air. They have air purifiers in there, but the air still looked smoky-no matter where you sat. It would make my eyes water and I came out of there with my hair and clothes smelling like an ashtray. We would go there because it was my father-in-laws favorite place to eat and he was a smoker. Other than that, is it a nice place.

    -- Posted by thatslife on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 7:06 PM
  • what a great story b/g about time!

    -- Posted by gottokno on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 8:17 PM
  • I have to disagree with the statement that the Double Decker, Bon Ton and the Monan are homeade. Lets explore thier respectable kitchens and find out the truth behind this homeade myth. First lets look at the appitizer menus for these restaurants. How fresh are the cheesticks, Buffalo wings, Onion rings, breaded mushrooms and french fries. These are products that come frozen from food suppliers(lets call them the fab 3)he such as Sysco, Gordon foods or Us foodservice. Soups are the same way they can be purchased pre made and bought from one of the fab 3. Even if they make soups from scrach they still use a chicken, beef, or mirepoix base to flavor there soups and not a true stock. The Double Decker burger, Monons garlic burgar, or the Bon Tons deluxe burger are more then likey flash frozen patties that come from the meat supplier somewhere in South Texas. Most T bone steaks come frozen as well. Most of these local establishments even Ole Toppers would tell you this fact. Desserts come the same way bought premade from the fab 3. There is nothing hardley homeade in this corperate world. Lets face the fact folks, even the mom and pop establishments sold out to the coperate monster!

    -- Posted by 1stamendrights on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 8:21 PM
  • homemade

    -- Posted by 1stamendrights on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 8:22 PM
  • 1stamendrights...try Chief's Real Deal BBQ for a change of pace. It's great, FRESH food with a dish to please every palate...great, friendly service to boot!

    -- Posted by mkycrzy1971 on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 9:05 PM
  • Oh...Chief's has HOMEMADE salad dressings, desserts, soups, sauces, entrees, and they bread their own fish, shrimp, frickled pickles, fried green tomotoes, etc., etc. If you have not tried them you do not know what you are missing!

    -- Posted by mkycrzy1971 on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 9:11 PM
  • What about the places we miss?

    I miss the Y-Palace, DeLaney's, and the old buffet in Cloverdale (Duff's?).

    As for the current selection of restaurants... I agree that Greencastle needs a place that offers fresh, healthy food. Vegan-friendly would be even better. Yet, we have 2 Chinese restaurants, 2 Mexican restaurants, several "homestyle" restaurants, several pizza places, and a few nicer restaurants. Also, don't forget about Treasures on the Square! They have really good homemade food.

    Do we need more? Probably. I would love to have a Greek restaurant in town. Likewise, an Indian place would make my wife happy. Could a town of 10,000 support them? That's always the problem, isn't it?

    -- Posted by PlatyPius on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 10:13 PM
  • You want the big city establishments then move away. If you dont care for there food anymore move away. If they had to go the cheaper route, then so be it. Times are tough and these places are doing what they can to survive in a small town.

    -- Posted by ZRXguy on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 10:24 PM
  • I'm not complaining I'm just crying out for better food! I will have to try Chiefs thanks for the suggestion!

    -- Posted by 1stamendrights on Thu, Jan 28, 2010, at 11:33 PM
  • I agree, Chief's is probably the only place in town that doesn't buy processed food. Yeah they buy their buns from a bakery, but Chief and Indy do a great job keeping it local and fresh. Don't get me wrong... sometimes a greasy spoon is the best medicine. And don't go into ANY of the kitchens. There's a reason you dine out. This was a great story about what Greencastle has to offer. Maybe if more of us stayed in town we'd have even MORE options??

    -- Posted by townielove on Fri, Jan 29, 2010, at 2:44 AM
  • livefree90.....I wasn't complaining about the article, I was wanting more and gave a suggestion.

    Quote:...."Do one on Bert & Betty's, It's been around a long time too."

    These are great story's and I hope next week maybe to see another one like it to cover other restaurants in Putnam County, Bert & Betty's being one of them.

    -- Posted by mad-mom on Fri, Jan 29, 2010, at 7:17 AM
  • To the individual who asked, "Could a town of 10,000 support them (new restaurants)? You're forgetting it's just not the town of Greencastle that eat at these restaurants. Please remember that we are a county, COUNTY! There are considerably more than just 10,000 in the county. Whenever someone is contemplating a new restaurant in town, I don't believe they would base it on the numbers of just the "town." It would be based on the population of the county.

    -- Posted by whodouthinkur on Fri, Jan 29, 2010, at 8:13 AM
  • townielove...Chief's does try to keep it local as much as possible; even using locally grown produce when in season. Steve and Indy do a fabulous job...I am looking forward to Chief's being around for a long time to come! are welcome! I hope you enjoy Chief's as much as my family does. If you like catfish, you won't find any better than Chief's; fresh breaded, white, flaky, mild, and delicious! He does a wonderful job with steaks & Shrimp too...what am I saying, it is ALL good!

    -- Posted by mkycrzy1971 on Fri, Jan 29, 2010, at 9:56 AM
  • What my opinion of a Mom and Pop restaurant is homemade roll and pies not frozens pies and dried out rolls, and everything coming out of cans, boxes, and etc. Clean looking place inside and out. Speaking of places to eat is the Double Decker closing, it does look like it at times.

    -- Posted by fed-up2010 on Fri, Jan 29, 2010, at 12:45 PM
  • 1stamendrights, I believe you may have your facts wrong. I am an owner of Bon Ton Diner and can assure you that we do not use flash frozen patties for our Bon Ton Deluxe, or any other hamburger. All hamburger patties are made fresh each day by our cook. We also do make ALL soups by hand, nothing pre-made. We pride ourselves by making our food, just like home. Pies, homemade as well. Eggs, we break each one as it is needed, pancake batter, the same.... bacon, is fried just like at home. We actually have our cookbooks located in our kitchen as well, just like home. Our daily specials, made daily, with the same ingredients we would use at home. We certainly do invite you to come and give it a try. You will find that we have not 'sold out' to the 'corporate monster' as mentioned. Thanks and maybe it's time to come try something different located locally. :)

    -- Posted by sue_blake on Fri, Jan 29, 2010, at 1:03 PM
  • I no longer live in Putnam County but this article brought back warm, wonderful memories. For those of you who post just to be nasty or those of you who live in a constant state of negativity, this article is not for you. In my opinion this article is not about the food (homemade or manufactured), rather it's about the memories invoked when one thinks about these establishments. If the walls of these places could talk oh the stories they definitely would tell. This is about all of the first dates and 50th dates; anniversaries; birthdays; celebrations after the big win; family and friends get togethers; after church Sunday dinners; where to catch up on the latest gossip; or just a place to feel warm, welcome and part of a real community.

    -- Posted by greatchildhoodinPC on Fri, Jan 29, 2010, at 4:25 PM
  • Great article! Thank you for the excellent coverage of local businesses. All of our local places are great, but I want to give a shout out to Chief's and Bert & Betty's. Oh, how about the place in Coatesville too... The Bread Basket! Very yummy desserts! Almost Home... wow. The list goes on and on. Who ever says there's no place to eat in this area needs to keep this list handy!

    -- Posted by sneakers on Fri, Jan 29, 2010, at 5:27 PM
  • I moved from the big City to Putnam county years ago. The Mom and Pops restaurants were a nice change. So alot of the food may be processed now the atmosphere and small town friendliness is still there. There is no smoking at the Double so the guy who hasnt been there since 2003 should revisit. I will continue to support them all!!

    -- Posted by skittlebug on Fri, Jan 29, 2010, at 10:54 PM
  • My very first job in 1971 was at the Fairway. I t has indeed been here a very long time. Back then ex sheriff Paul Mason owned it.

    -- Posted by legallis on Sun, Jan 31, 2010, at 3:10 PM
  • I was just curious as to why the Putnam Inn was not included. It appears to have been there for several years and they have some great home cooking.

    -- Posted by confusedami on Sun, Jan 31, 2010, at 7:53 PM
  • Maribeth Ward has written an article worthy of a Charles Kuralt award in local journalism! I'm printing a copy to refer to the next time I take a road trip back to Indiana from North Carolina. And those scrumptious toasted cheese sandwiches--served with hot cider--that Maybelle Hamm used to make at The Fluttering Duck, how heavenly a memory! God Bless you Greencastle. God Bless you Putnam County!

    -- Posted by first affirmative on Mon, Feb 1, 2010, at 4:47 PM
  • As I was driving though Bainbridge on a Tuesday evening I noticed that the Bon Ton was closed at 6:45 p.m. This is the reason the Bon Ton has failed so many times before due to limited hours. This is the prime time for the dinner crowd why would you be closed??? Please someone explain this

    -- Posted by 1stamendrights on Wed, Feb 3, 2010, at 1:37 AM
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