A mecca of upscale dining unassumingly awaits less than a seven-hour drive away from the southern border of Wisconsin. It’s Bloomington, Indiana—a college town less populated than Madison but home to more restaurants than several other Midwestern towns of a similar size combined.
The variety of cuisine is staggering: Turkish, Tibetan, Venezuelan, Burmese, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, French, Japanese…and that’s simply what will catch one’s eye on a quick drive-by tour. Although in reality, with over 350 brick-and-mortar eateries, the options are staggering—plus well worth a summer road trip to try foods one likely never suspected would be accessible without flying to a coastal town or leaving the country.
Here are three nosh spots not too miss no matter how long of a stay one has in mind.
If looking for a foodie outing not soon to be forgotten, this is the most tantalizing craft distillery you’ll ever stumble upon. The level of personalized attention from the Cardinal Spirits staff puts everyone onsite right at ease. So much so that diners easily strike up conversations with neighboring tables, swapping dish or drink recommendations, while soaking up the easy camaraderie in a relaxing atmosphere. Yet once the food arrives to the table, one’s attention is immediately drawn to the striking presentation of each plate—whether it be sliced avocado carved into a shape of a blossom on top of the Blood Orange Salad or the house Valencia Triple Sec magically transformed into an elegant garnish of edible pearls placed alongside the Sweet Tea Panna Cotta.
Fresh, allergen-friendly baked goods are available six days a week at this vegan bakery. General manager and co-owner Erin Tobey is proud how much the bakery’s regular customers can sense its investment in the community through the business’ donations to direct service organizations like a local women’s crisis center, in addition to hosting monthly art showcases. However, the pastries and savory items are what make being sold-out a familiar status come closing time. The rotating flavor of cake doughnuts indeed merit multiple trips—thanks to unique flavor combinations like Maple Bacon, Blueberry Ginger and Raspberry Hibiscus. And if it appears the only thing missing at Rainbow Bakery is an ethically-sourced cup of java, Tobey (along with Jane Kupersmith and Jeff Granta) own and operate Hopscotch Coffee—two of the most popular cafés in the region for year-round residents.
Small Favors Bar is farm-to-fork restaurant committed to sourcing entrée ingredients from farmers within a 50-mile radius of city limits. As such, 75 percent of the menu changes every three weeks. The brunch menu also has a cocktail lineup which is exclusive to Sundays—ensuring patrons have an ideal excuse to pop in several times a month. The intimate, single-room dining area is an inviting fusion of contemporary and European design elements beckoning one to linger long past the final course for a post-dinner night cap. Opt for one of the signature adult bevys with a classic liquor like sherry as a base, or one that is nonalcoholic by design, such as Small Favor Bar’s rendition of Rosemary’s Maybe.
Featured image credit: Visit Bloomington