Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Feasting On Americana!
Day 1: Drive-In Owner Shares A Secret

Jay is a soft-spoken owner of the Mug N Bun Drive-In.
And, he makes the best hand-dipped onion rings I've ever had.
Full stop.

My friend Karen and I left town on Friday 4 pm and began our "Feasting On Americana" trip. The voyage was inspired by Alton Brown's Feasting On Asphalt tours from Georgia to California, likely inspired by Route 66, and from Louisiana to Minnesota, following the Mississippi River.

Our purpose?

1. To eat in diners and cafes while enjoying the relaxed atmosphere, good food and good people within their walls.

2. To visit some wacky road sites - like a giant pink elephant - before they are just a memory.

3. To examine some of the history of road lodging - including re-furbished as well as abandoned "Tourist Cottages" - and sleeping a night in the famed "Wigwam Motel No. 2."

4. To stop at interesting places along the way which strike our fancy.

5. (Oh, I almost forgot.) To forgo the Interstate System as much as possible, electing instead to travel the wee windy roads through rural Kentucky, with a dash of Indiana and a hint of Illinois.

Disclaimer: For safety's sake, we took Interstates after dark.

Thank you to all my friends at the Good Eats Fan Page Message Board and the very helpful folks at for providing invaluable info on eateries. When it came to researching hole-in-the-wall dives, recommendations flooded forth about food they "never miss" when in town. In a way, they were my own little Duncan Hines researchers, and I am much obliged.

If you are not familiar with of Duncan Hines' instrumental involvement in food and lodging in the middle of the last century, request a copy of Adventures in Good Eating from your local library or head to Amazon for a copy of Louis Hatchett's book, Duncan Hines: The Man Behind the Cake Mix.

Mug N Bun, Indianapolis
In a successful attempt to bypass heavy Chicago traffic, we headed South on Route 47 to Champaign then East on I-74. We called ahead to see if we would make it to the Mug N Bun before they closed. The very nice man who answered gave directions, saying that once on 10th street we would see the sign.

"Sure, the red arrow, right?"
I think I surprised him...since I wasn't yet in the area. So I explained that I had done my research and many folks on the internet said his pork tenderloin was "not to be missed." He asked where we were from (Chicago) and said to be sure to say hello when we arrived.

We were lucky enough to arrive in time to order and to get some pictures of the nice neon sign while it still glowed. We both ordered the pork tenderloin, hand-dipped onion rings, and after the server informed us that they had homemade root beer...we ordered that, too.

After clicking more photos, the waitress brought our food. She asked if we were the ladies who called (we affirmed) and she handed each of us a heavy brown bag with a souvenir mug inside...compliments of the owner.

Wow! That was so kind.

I ran up to the drive-in window and thanked the owner, who promptly threw out a hand, introducing himself as Jay. We talked for a while about his business, how he loves meeting people from all over and how word of mouth is truly his best advertisement. He was very proud of his hand-dipped onion rings.

Then it hit me, I hadn't even tasted the food.

I excused myself, returning to my car and digging in to the tasty, juicy, pork tenderloin sammy and tried a ring. Amazing. The tenderloin was piping hot and flavorful, not hard, crunchy and old...even though we ordered at 10:25pm ... 5 min before close. The sandwich was large enough to split, though we each ordered one. I only managed to finish half of the sandwich with a handful of giant onion rings before I was full. And, the homemade rootbeer was creamy, no bite, with a great mouth feel.

I just had to thank Jay one more time. I raved about the onion rings while his face beamed. They were...crispy, cooked through but not mealy, the onion didn't pull out in one long strip, the breading stayed on the ring, they were huge, and the breading itself was tasty. Truly wonderful.

Politely accepting the compliment, Jay said he used large Spanish onions -he loves the springtime when he can get them from Texas - though sometimes those are so big the rings break in half. He cooks all his food to order including the rings. So, for a busy Friday night - where he can serve up to 900 tenderloins - he spends about 2.5 hours in the morning cutting onions. Yes, 2.5 hours just cutting onions!

Then Jay swore me to secrecy and shared his "secret" to a good onion ring. The secret, according to Jay, now, I can't tell you that. But, I sure did appreciate his sharing it.

On and on we talked...about how he bought the place in '98 (I think he said), his 50 item menu which includes oysters...his creamy and delicious homemade root beer. But, soon the neon lights went out and it was time to say goodbye.

Jay asked me to tell folks who might visit to take a moment and introduce themselves. He really loves meeting people. And, trust me, you want to meet this man with a passion for drive-in food.

We got back on the road, drove South of Louisville and stayed in a Hampton Inn. Appreciative of the comfy beds and thick luxurious duvets, we hit the sack to slumber while visions of hand-dipped onion rings filled our dreams.
Don't miss Day 2 of Feasting on Americana!

Mug N Bun
5211 W 10th St
Indianapolis, IN 46224
Phone: (317) 244-5669Read the whole Feasting on Americana! series:
Day 1 - Drive-In Owner Shares a Secret
Day 2 - My First Fried Green Tomatoes!
Day 3 - Confusion, Confession, and Reading Between the Lines
Day 4 - What's a good Northern girl to do? Pin It

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