Because I’m a food writer, as well as a historian and travel writer, I figured I should slip in a little chow-related information, as I talk about this area. I don’t think anyone would consider Bloomington a destination for dining, but if you’re there or in the neighborhood, you will be pleased to know that the options are surprisingly good, and I had some excellent food during my research trip and then on this return trip to speak and promote my book.
Anju Above is the more low key sibling of Epiphany Farms. Situated, as the name suggests, above Epiphany, it is, like its downstairs neighbor, a serious farm-to-table operation that is highly regarded even outside of Bloomington. The approach at Anju is more or less small plates, with an interesting range of offerings, though heavily weighted toward artisanal pizza and sushi rolls. The small plates approach made tasting a variety of things possible. My choice was the sweet ginger salad, which was bright with a bite, with both shaved radishes and ginger adding to the spiciness of the substantial pile of mixed greens. We also had Hawaiian pizza, Korean mandoo (dumplings filled with kimchee), and a very nice (and surprisingly substantial) shrimp tempura roll. Everything was delicious. Epiphany Farms, downstairs, is a bit pricier, I was told, but every bit as innovative and good. http://www.epiphanyfarms.com/anjuabove/
Jim’s Steakhouse is not just good for a small town; it’s good for anywhere. Friends took me here for dinner when I first came down to do research. The restaurant is elegant but the feel is comfortable and homey. The service is impeccable, and the dry-aged beef is amazing, whether you’re getting steaks, prime rib, or burgers. If you don’t fancy beef, there are excellent seafood and chicken options. But I was there for the beef. Everything was outstanding. http://www.jimsbloomington.com/
Having friends in the area, a lot of meals were eaten at their home, but that meant I got exposed to places where you can buy the basics—or enjoy treats.
Just outside of Normal, which is so close to Bloomington that the two usually get clumped together as Bloomington-Normal, one place worth looking up is Ropp Jersey Cheese. Here, a gentleman named Ken Ropp has a small operation where he makes wonderful cheese out of the rich milk from his Jersey cows. These are beautiful cows, and their milk is high in butterfat, and the cheese is fabulous. Ropp make a lot of “straight” cheese—gouda, swiss, cheddar, etc.–but also creates a number of flavored cheeses, which are great for snacking. I liked the smoked gouda and green-onion cheddar best of the ones I tried–and I bought both). But farmer Ken Ropp doesn’t stop there. He uses the whey from the cheese making to help feed his heritage pigs, and you can also buy really dandy pork products from him–which we also did. We bought beautiful pork chops and flavorful garlic bratwurst. Ropp caters mostly to local restaurants, but he also sells retail from the small shop on the edge of the farm. They also have free-range poultry and beef, though on a much smaller scale. Definitely one of those great, small, mixed purpose farms that is worth encouraging. So if you’re in the area and hankering from some farm-fresh cheese or meat, you might want to visit.
Ropp Jersey Cheese: http://www.roppcheese.com
I haven’t visited The Chocolatier since they moved to their new locations, but previous experiences makes it easy to recommend this confectioner.
Common Ground is a splendid organic/natural/health food store in the center of town. My friends always like to stop there to load up on the basics when they have guests – and this last time, I picked up some really beautiful ginger-peach tea.
There is also a great farmers’ market every Saturday from May through October, set in the historic center of town, around the McLean County History Museum. (You can get a glimpse of it in my original post on Bloomington.) Plus there are a number of delightful coffee shops, where locals clearly enjoy hanging out.
So a nice town for food, as well as for history.