Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A Tasteful Hobby

I found a man with an amazingly expensive hobby. We went to a small restaurant in Indianapolis, named Shultz's. It didn't look like much, inside or outside, but my dad had been there once before and recommended it highly. Just as we were seated, the waiter came to take our drink orders, dropping off two baskets of appetizers before we could think about ordering them. One basket contained fried biscuits and apple butter - not an unknown dish in Indiana, where if we can't fry it, it must not be edible. But these had the light, fluffy, smooth texture of store-bought biscuits, cobined with the flavor of homemade, fried to a beautiful and even golden-brown. The other basket held tortilla chips and pico de gallo - again, standard fare, but not done like this. The chips were actual tortilla shells, cut in quarters and deep-fried to a flaky, crispy perfection, then lightly salted and delivered to the table still too hot to eat...though they were too good for that to stop us. The pico was merely very good - fresh, chunky, maybe a little too mild. After all, we were in Indiana, where hot sauce is an import.

I looked over the menu and saw several tempting options, but my father took the choice away from us, and we had a true Hoosier standard - pork tenderloin sandwiches and onion rings. Only five onion rings in an order, hardly enough for a side dish, I thought, but he only asked for two helpings to share between the four of us. When they arrived, I understood. If you take a large onion, cut it in half, then separate the layers and dip and fry the resulting bowl-sized pieces, you get these onion rings. That will, of course, leave several smaller pieces from the center of the onion, which were used to wonderful effect in the french onion soup my son ordered. The onion bits were thick in that bowl...once you made it through the thick layer of melted cheese and croutons. I'm not a fan, myself, but Michael has ordered french onion soup in a dozen places, and was looking forward to going back to Schultz's again, where he knew he could get it the way it should be.

Tenderloin sandwiches, like I said, are a Hoosier standard - I ate them in school lunches, and have fried up the frozen ones you can find in the grocery. I've even had the really good ones, dinner-plate sized, with the better breading, that you find in your better class of home-cooking-style restaurants. But I've never had one before that was not only the size of the plate, but thicker than a ham slice and tender as a good steak. The breading was not the normal cumbs, but a light coating that enhanced the flavor of the pork without covering it. I don't believe I'll ever be able to order a tenderloin anywhere else, ever again - there's just too little chance of finding it's equal.

I looked the prices over, too. About the same as you would expect from a "family-night-out" restaurant chain, like Friday's or Applebee's, or maybe a little bit lower. Of course, that only counts the food we actually paid for, as those unordered appetizers were "on the house." The only explanation is that we had found a restauranteur who truly loved his food, and wanted to share it with the world...and we were fortunate enough to benefit from his generosity. Meanwhile, he was planning to open up another couple of stores, then maybe franchise it out, perhaps eventually introducing a quality pork tenderloin somewhere outside the Midwest.

We went back on Saturday, and found a sign on the door. It thanked the regulars for their patronage, then added "but there were too few of you." Schultz's has closed for good. From Dad's conversation with the owner, it seems that this was his ninth attempt at owning a restaurant, and this one lasted a mere four months. It's got to be an incredibly expensive hobby - opening new restaurants, letting his few customers discover his wonderful food, then being forced to close down again in but a few months. If he ever decides to open number ten, though, and if I manage to hear about it, he can count on seeing me for dinner.

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