Frosting the Hoosier pumpkin

Server Dacqueri Mahar shows off Huber’s finest, the country platter dish of fried chicken and ham. Photos by Sara Havens

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(Stumler’s, Joe Huber’s)

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock …
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence …
O, it’s then the time a feller is a-feelin’ at his best.

Ahh, autumn, time of harvest and nippy nights, hearty cider and cozy fireplaces. Autumn doesn’t get any better than it does in rural Indiana, and it’s no surprise that the poet who penned those words in 1883, Indiana’s own James Whitcomb Riley, was a Hoosier through and through.

Riley, who’s been a hero of mine ever since I learned that he started out as a newspaper reporter and was once fired from the Anderson Democrat for being a little too creative with his prose, knew a good thing when he saw it, and so do we.

The leaves are getting serious about turning colors now, and any random pumpkin is likely to wake up in the morning sporting a touch of frost. Let’s celebrate Riley’s memory with a leaf-peeping, eating and drinking expedition to the tourist farms of Starlight, Ind., in the hills above New Albany, for an old-fashioned Indiana country dinner and maybe a glass or two of Hoosier wine.

We dispatched Eat ‘N’ Blog correspondents TINA L. MEREDITH and BARB TEMPLE to get over and check out two Starlight-area classics, Stumler’s and Joe Huber’s, respectively. They came back unscathed to tell these tales:

The Stumler Alternative

Every fall when we head out to Starlight for our apple fix at the Huber’s family farms, I notice the signs advertising Stumler’s and say to myself, “Self, we should try that sometime.” Touring the region at lunchtime on a crisp September Saturday, we finally did it, driving past the hustle and bustle of Huber’s and on to the relatively quiet parking lot at Stumler’s in nearby Borden. A white-haired lady greeted us warmly and invited us to choose our table in the nearly empty dining room.

We looked over the menu, then took her suggestion and opted for the extensive buffet ($10.95 for adults, half price for kids 5-10 and free for those 4 and under).

I started with a plate of cold salads: cole slaw, potato salad and tomato salad. The tomato salad was particularly good, consisting of fresh tomatoes, bits of crisp cauliflower, broccoli and bell peppers, marinating in a country-style vinaigrette of vinegar, water and a spoonful of sugar.

This piscetarian was happy to find the buffet loaded with fried fish and lots of meat-free vegetables, including stewed tomatoes, corn on the cob, boiled potatoes with carrots, and broccoli casserole. My omnivorous husband, Peter, filled his plate with fried chicken, roasted pork, chicken and dumplings and green beans with ham.

Unfortunately, although we arrived promptly at noon, all the hot items suffered from over-steaming. The fish was flavorful, but its consistency made me pause after the first bite to wonder if I had accidentally picked up a piece of fried pork. Peter said the chicken and dumplings were the best, but the meats were dry.

Dessert offerings included several cobblers, pumpkin pie and persimmon pudding. The apple cobbler was sweet-tart and covered with a flaky crust. The pumpkin pie would have been perfect with a dollop of whipped cream. Peter enjoyed the persimmon pudding, which he said was vaguely reminiscent of fruitcake. All in all, Stumler’s was a place we really wanted to like, but I have to mark it down for the consistent steam-table issues. -TLM

Stumler Restaurant & Orchard
10924 Saint John Road
Borden, Ind.
(812) 923-3832

Joe Huber's
When it’s fall: folks flock to the Southern Indiana hills. If you’re thinking about a visit to Joe Huber’s restaurant, be ready for a crowd.

Vegging out at Joe Huber’s

When September’s rainy spell ended and we finally got some beautiful weather, we headed up to Joe Huber’s for an early dinner and some good veggies. The day was sunny and pleasantly cool as our party of four wended our way up to Starlight.

The cavernous dining room is lined with straight rows of basic tables and chairs, and we had the place almost to ourselves for a while before the dinner crowd drifted in.

I felt comfortable, almost as if we were dining in an oversize version of someone’s “eat-in” kitchen. Our server appeared right away, so I had little time to read the back of the paper placemat. Later, I learned about the seven generations of Hubers who trace their family tree to Simon Huber, who came from Baden-Baden, Germany, in 1843, settled in Starlight and planted apple trees that he had brought with him from the Old Country. I loved the part about the Hubers being German, and fondly remembered dropping in for dinner several years ago to find a celebration going on, with happy folks dancing the polka to German music.

Our friendly young server valiantly attempted to answer our many questions. I told her I was a vegetarian, sort of, but I did want to try the chicken and dumplings. To accommodate my craving, my companions decided to have family-style dinners ($15.99), a bountiful spread that included fine, non-greasy fried chicken and slices of honey ham. We also got the chicken and dumplings, a really delicious Waldorf salad, flat green beans cooked with ham; corn, cabbage slaw, mashed potatoes with white gravy, and Joe Huber’s wonderful fried biscuits and apple butter.

The slaw was made with a vinegar dressing that did not appeal to me at first. It was really good, though, with an herbal flavor that offset the tart vinegar. My sis, Pat, loved it and could not get enough of it or the green beans. I felt the same way about the Waldorf salad with fresh apples, celery, nuts and a mayonnaise-type dressing that was easy on the mayo. Mmm!

My companions dug into the fried chicken and ham and pronounced both very good. My husband, Jim, commented later that his favorite part of the meal was the fried chicken … and the wide-open spaces and farm atmosphere.

Our server told me that the white gravy on the mashed potatoes was meat-based, so I requested a bowl of plain potatoes with butter and she promptly complied. She kept replenishing our bowls and made sure we left satisfied. Wobbling maybe, but definitely satisfied!

My sister and I enjoyed slices of coconut cream pie ($3.99) for dessert. Jim had a glass of Huber’s wine, Harvest Blush ($4.99), with his dinner, and my sister shared a sip of the house wine, Strawberry Zinfandel ($3.99). It was sweet with a nice strawberry accent. With a Diet Coke for me ($1.99), and three glasses of iced tea ($1.99), plus a $20 tip, our lavish meal for four came to $120.56.

If you’re set on a lighter meal, Joe Huber’s sandwiches range from $5.99 (for bratwurst) to $8.99 (for a country ham sandwich); most are $7.99. The lavish dessert menu included pumpkin, peanut butter, and chocolate-peanut butter pies, three kinds of cobbler, sugar-free ice cream with or without fruit, and the Three Acre Sundae ($7.99), a production number that that we could not even contemplate after all we had eaten. Winter drinks include spiced pumpkin cappuccino and hot spiced cider ($4.99 with rum, $3.99 without). Huber has a namesake beer – it’s made in Wisconsin by another company – premium or bock for $2.50 a bottle, in addition to a list of commercial beers. Wines are made at cousin Gerald Huber’s orchard, winery and distillery just down the road. We would have liked to drop by there for an after-dinner glass, but alas, it closes at 6 p.m. Oh, well, next time … -BT

Joe Huber’s Family Farm & Restaurant
2421 Scottsville Road
Starlight, Ind.
(877) 563-4823