As summer turns to fall, the sun sets sooner, vacations are done for the time being, and thoughts wander toward the holiday season. It’s a common time to crave warm, savory food — perhaps as a balance against the nip in the air outside.
Pair that comfort food with a favorite beverage, add the company of family or friends, and you’re set for a great time.
What better place to enjoy those delights than a local tavern, or a restaurant that serves up plenty of hearty, tavern-style food. We’re the first to admit that not every Evansville establishment listed here meets the traditional tavern definition, but each has a menu and ambiance that lend themselves to these kinds of cozy, cool-weather days or evenings.
All of them say that, yes, business tends to increase this time of year as families and groups of friends come to eat, drink, socialize, and enjoy.
Let’s take a tour of a few of our area’s choice taverns — and full-service restaurants with food favored at taverns — and see what their kitchens are churning out.
Roughly 20 minutes from Downtown Evansville is Darmstadt — the only other incorporated community in Vanderburgh County — and Darmstadt Inn sits in the tiny town’s center. It’s been a gathering place for locals and outsiders for decades.
Owner Rick Kennedy, who’s had the business since 2010, says plate dinners are what Darmstadt Inn regulars grab the most. Fried chicken and catfish always are popular choices, as well as pork chops and country fried steaks.
Fall and winter months, Kennedy says, tend to bring in more families and groups of friends.
“People get out and spend a little more, visit more,” he says.
Owner Audrey Christie wasn’t bashful when asked what Stockwell Inn regulars order the most this time of year.
“The whole menu,” she says. “Nobody complains about anything.”
Stockwell Inn’s specialty sandwiches, including the Reuben, roast beef and chicken Phillys, breaded tenderloins, and wraps, are among those popular choices, as are the daily homemade plate lunches. You can also snare a brain sandwich here if you’re in the mood — Christie says she makes several, even during the West Side Nut Club Fall Festival, where they’re a well-known street food item.
Christie says that as November and December arrive, business at Stockwell Inn hits “full throttle. Especially after Thanksgiving, and then we’re busy all of December.”
One popular Stockwell Inn tradition is “drinksgiving,” the night before Thanksgiving. “People look forward to that every year,” says Christie, who’s owned for seven years the
restaurant her family has had for 37 years.
Soups are a hit this time of year at Nisbet Inn in Haubstadt, a town in the southwest corner of Gibson County. Jim and Becky Harl, owners for the last 19 years, roll out bowl after bowl of gumbo and bean soup with cornbread as the weather cools down.
Other comfort food standards at Nisbet Inn — which locals often still call “Nisbet Station” in reference to the old train stop nearby — include smoked chicken, pork chop, and rib dinners, and in the fall and winter, Becky says customers seem to pick those items ahead of sandwiches and salads.
Nisbet Inn diners also look for warmth in their dessert choices, preferring cobblers and fruit pies.
“We will feel an influx, certainly, when the weather cools off and people will come back inside,” Becky says.
A popular spot in the northern Vanderburgh County community known as Earle, The Hornet’s Nest Steakhouse serves up some traditional tavern foods but doesn’t consider itself in that vein — and for good reason.
Owner Derek Ungethiem points out that the business has added a 2,500-square-foot kitchen, while also replacing its bar, and it has a more expansive menu than taverns typically do.
There still are plenty of warm comfort foods to pick from, though — Ungethiem, who’s helmed the business since 2010, notes the Hornet’s Nest sells a lot of chicken livers and gizzards in the fall and winter.
The menu’s appetizers stretch beyond typical items like onion rings and breaded mushrooms — think fried provolone bruschetta and fried green tomatoes.
Let’s wrap up our tour with a spot on Evansville’s West Side that embraces the “tavern” name.
Known for its pizza and sandwiches, Leroy’s Tavern has plenty more that keeps people coming back, time and time again.
This time of year, “we definitely see an uptick,” owner Terri “Carl” Still says.
Free Soup Saturday is a big deal at Leroy’s, especially as cooler weather arrives. Promoted on the business’s social media pages, Leroy’s rolls out a different soup every week — goulash, chili, chicken noodle, vegetable soup, and potato, to name a few — and diners devour it while waiting for their entrée.
Leroy’s opened in 1970, and Still bought it in 2011. In the cooler months, she says her regulars gather to watch football and basketball while dining on their favorites.
“We’re a very loyal, patron-based local bar,” Still says. “You see the same faces every day, and it’s wonderful. You can set your watch by them.”