Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Harry and Bud's
Harry and Bud's sounds like an urban legend when you first hear of it, but it is really more like a secret initiation. Its one of the cool little secrets of Terre Haute, that you won't stumble upon unless someone lets you in on it. It is a fabulous little restaurant across from the community theatre on 25th Str (1440 S 25th). It has no signage or any reason to think its a restaurant rather than an abandoned barbershop or something. And it isn't open for regular hours. If the light outside of it is on, then the restaurant is open, if it isn't then it isn't. It's usually open for lunch, and is a great place for a long slow lunch. You just sorta drive by and see if the light is on.
If you can find it, and it happens to be open, you get in to a small place, that yes, used to be a barbershop, but now has 4 or 5 tables, a kitchen, and piles and piles of old cookbooks laying around everywhere, what Alton Brown calls "quaint and curious volumes of culinary lore." The tables are all classic American diner, but the walls are covered with old maps, including a huge map of pre-WWII Germany. Another had an old schoolroom, meta-map explaining what various geographic terms mean. The ambiance was like a cross between a diner and a study, with a little classroom or culinary lab thrown in. Our visit Friday for lunch was pretty typical of the several times Robyn or I have been there. The chef (Jeffrey Marks) and his assistant were sitting and reading the paper and talking. We were the only ones there, and they chatted with us for a while. Then the chef went in back and started cooking, although the kitchen does spill out into the front of the house. The assistant took the role of waiter, kinda, and asked us which of 3 soups we'd prefer. And then went in back to report the results. A little later he came out and asked "I'm guessing, you guys like blue cheese right?" We assured him that we did, and told him a story about Roquefort cheese ice cream. He disappeared again and Robyn and I chatted some more, and half heartedly read through the New York Times they let s borrow. There was no menu, no board of daily specials. No hint of prices or options, except the verbal discussion of the 3 soups and the fact that we like blue cheese. Oh I guess there was a discussion about drinks too (we had a chilled sparkling cranberry drink I've nearly bought at Kroger's but never actually did). When "lunch" came out it was our soups (black bean for me, potato for Robyn), a heavy bread, a huge chunk of blue cheese, some tapanade, and a whole mess of veggies in a confusing presentation and yummy light vinegary sauce. I eventually determined that there were mushrooms and onions and peppers and cauliflower in another sauce, and greens, and sweet potato sticks, and probably a few other things. All of them were lovely. And there was plenty of food. Three different sauces for lunch, jeez. We just slowly worked through the soup and veggie plate, putting slices of blue cheese on the bread, or trying a bite with the tapanade, or whatever. We talked about the food, and other things, with the chef and waiter as we were eating it, as both settled back into the table next to ours. When we were done and ready to go, we asked how much it was, and they kinda looked at each other and made up a number, which seemed pretty fair. The whole experience is so informal that "restaurant" doesn't even quite seem like the right term, more like a chef with a kitchen he opens sometimes so that people can try his food, oh and then pay for it. There website describes them as a cross between "a mom and pop place, and a Greenwich Village hangout." That's about right, half mid-west small-town and half Greenwich Village. They don't take plastic either, so have cash or a local check ready. And every time we've been there its been good. And different.
The chef said the name Harry and Bud's came from an old restaurant in Bloomington, IN which closed down long ago, but which he always imagined having a little French chef smoking outside and waiting for an order to be placed. And that is very much the vibe. A place that exists entirely on word of mouth, and word of mouth passed in hushed tones as a kind of local secret. Its a sort of bastard child of a diner and a bistro, with an extra dose of lazy and an extra dose of genius thrown in. There is a Frazier episode where Frazier and his brother joke about opening a restaurant so exclusive that they won't even have a sign up. Frazier's father suggests perhaps they should hire a sniper to pick off potential patrons before they can arrive, and Frazier and Niles are taken aback, there is no reason to be ridiculous they say. Well, Terre Haute has the mythical restaurant without any sign, and it does cater to an exclusive clientele, but it isn't snooty or particularly expensive, it's just hidden and charming and you have to want to go somewhere where you will be actually chatting with the guy that makes your food. It's almost too cantankerous to be a business, although it's been in business 16 years, so I guess it must be a long smouldering passion instead. It is
Just one more reason I'm proud of Terre Haute