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Evansville
Sunday, July 3, 2022

How To Be An Evansvillian

Our bend in the Ohio River is something to celebrate. From our lively German traditions and intense school rivalries to our steadfast love of baseball, we have distinct ways of showing our pride in the River City. Feel like jumping on board and experiencing life as an Evansvillian? We’ll lead the way.

What We Eat

If there is one thing Evansvillians can agree on, it’s our love of food. The River City’s dining is so diverse, it’s often referred to as a small city with big eats. But even with hundreds of restaurants to choose from, Tri-State diners have set the tone of the local dining scene for decades — most recently from the more than 31,000-member Facebook group “Tri-State Restaurant Reviews” founded by Kenny Garrett in 2012.

From fried favorites filling the food booths at the West Side Nut Club’s Fall Festival to a pizza crust rivaling the popular styles of St. Louis and New York, here are the most sought-after edible items Evansvillians love to eat and drink.

Grippos & SKI
You can’t stroll through Evansville without catching at least one reference to this iconic duo.

Even Evansville Living joined in on the fun in “Our Colorful City” in the 2020 City View issue, when we featured Grippos’ dusty barbecue chips and electric green SKI citrus soda — though neither is produced in the Tri-State. Grippos are a Cincinnati brand (and the official chip of the Cincinnati Reds), while SKI is owned by Double Cola in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and manufactured by Excel Bottling Company in Breese, Illinois.

Locally, Grippos are sold by the bag or used as toppings in some specialty dishes. At the Fall Festival, the chips appear on everything from ice cream sundaes and grilled cheese sandwiches. The Westsider pie at Azzip Pizza (multiple locations) is flavored with a SKI reduction and topped with crumbled Grippos along with barbecue sauce, mozzarella, slow smoked pork, and red onions.

Fall Fest Food Fanatics
In Evansville, we clear our schedules the first full week of October so we can attend the West Side Nut Club’s annual Fall Festival. We love that this multi-block fundraiser is put on to benefit community organizations like churches and school booster clubs. In the spirit of the festival, we dress up our dogs for the parade, chug endless jugs of crisp apple cider, and broaden our taste buds; even the pickiest eaters can be persuaded to try a brain sandwich. Not your style? Try these Fall Fest favorites instead.

• Donut Burgers: Sold exclusively by Grace & Peace Lutheran Church, this eye-popping dish is at the end of one of the festival’s longest lines. Sweet and savory meet in perfect harmony with every bite of the warm beef patty and slice of American cheese encased by flattened Donut Bank doughnut halves as buns.

• Pronto Pups: Also known as the original corn dog, these hot dogs on a stick are one of the most common menu items at the Fall Festival. While corn dogs are typically dipped in cornmeal or corn flour batter, pronto pups have a sweeter, fluffier consistency made of flour or pancake batter.

How the Crust Crumbles
St. Louis pizza uses provel instead of mozzarella cheese, New York makes comically large hand-tossed slices to go, and Chicago’s deep-dish style (don’t say this to a Chi-town native) is almost an entirely different dish. Over the years, Evansville pizzerias have developed a city-centric style of their own, and Evansvillians can’t get enough.

Eateries like Turoni’s Pizzery & Brewery, Roca Bar (1618 S. Kentucky Ave.), Steve’s Una Pizza (1005 S. St. James Blvd.), Heady’s Pizza (4120 N. First Ave.), Knob Hill Tavern (1016 IN-662, Newburgh, IN), and Franklin Street Pizza Factory (2033 W. Franklin St.) all start their pies with a flaky, crunchy crust that Evansvillians go crazy for. Decreased amounts of leavening in the dough are responsible for the crust’s cracker-like consistency.

We Love Our Beer
Evansville is home to several microbreweries and brewpubs.
Here are a few local favorites:
Turoni’s Pizzery & Brewery — 408 N. Main St.
Gerst Bavarian Haus — 2001 W. Franklin St.
Myriad Brewery — 101 SE. First St., Ste. 1
Haynie’s Corner Brewing Co. — 56 Adams Ave.
Damsel’s Brew Pub — 209 N. Wabash Ave. of Flags

Extra Bites
You can’t eat out in Evansville without trying one of these classic items.

• Stromboli: Evansville’s take on the Italian American sandwich is a mix between a cheesy calzone and a ground sausage sloppy joe that features heavily on the menus at Pizza King (220 N. St. Joseph Ave.), Smitty’s Italian Steakhouse (2109 W. Franklin St.), and Angelo’s (305 Main St.).

• The Giant Pretzel: It isn’t printed on the menu, but you won’t make it past the host stand at Gerst Haus before you see wait staff delivering hot, fresh, bigger-than-your-head Bavarian pretzels to guests snapping an Instagram-worthy photo. The authentic salted pretzel is served with a ramekin of Munich cheese dip.• Brain Sandwich: We know what you’re thinking, but this Tri-State delicacy is a light, chewy dish that tastes just like any other meat patty — if you can keep the brain visuals out of mind. Available at the Fall Festival and historic taverns such as Hilltop Inn (1100 Harmony Way), Stockwell Inn (4001 E. Eichel Ave.), and New Frontier Restaurant & Bar (12945 IN-57), the brain sandwich is a fried pork brain patty with pickles and onions and served on a bun.

• Fried Tenderloin Sandwich: Also a Fall Festival special, where it’s served up in giant Texas-style patties, fried tenderloins are the tame, comforting cousin of the brain sandwich. Also accompanied by pickles, onions, and a bun, the pork dish can be found at Riverwalk Restaurant & Catering (6 Walnut St.), Major Munch (101 NW. First St., Ste. 100), Zesto (920 E. Riverside Drive & 102 W. Franklin), Cross-Eyed Cricket (2101 W. Lloyd Expressway), and Highland Inn (6620 N. First Ave.).

What We Do

Every city has its own restaurants, shops, and attractions that are a hit with locals and define the town. Evansville is no different, and has plenty of unique features to boot. Whether strolling on Main Street or cheering for the Otters at historic Bosse Field, here are some things River City residents love to do.

Stick our necks out
Evansvillians love to roll the dice at Bally’s Evansville Casino and Hotel (421 NW. Riverside Drive). In fact, Bally’s (formerly Tropicana Evansville and Casino Aztar) became Indiana’s first land-based commercial casino in 2017 after the state’s gambling laws gave riverboat casinos the right to become permanent land fixtures. A mainstay on the Ohio Riverfront since 1995, our casino is an integral part of Evansville’s nightlife, with live music, multiple restaurants, and slots, craps, poker, and more. Looking for the complete casino experience? Take the night off with a stay at Bally’s boutique hotel, the recently renamed Legend’s Tower.

Hop aboard the LST-325
From our shipyard to our munitions factories, Evansville was a major hub of industrial activity during World War II. So when friends, family, and coworkers come to visit, we take them to the USS LST-325 (610 NW. Riverside Drive). Open seasonally to public tours, this landing ship-tank is now a floating museum and memorial to Evansville’s extensive wartime contributions. Boarding the ship is like stepping back into time: As the only fully operational LST left in the world, the ship is modernized where needed but retains its 1940s aesthetic. Docked on the Ohio River in Downtown Evansville, it’s easy to look across the water toward the shores of Kentucky and pretend you’re part of the LST-325 crew that participated in the D-Day Allied invasion of Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.

Catch an Otters game at Bosse Field
Nothing is as uniquely Evansville as the home crowd cheering on its beloved Otters at historic Bosse Field (23 N. Main St.). Since their inception in 1995, the two-time Frontier League champions have played at the Field — the nation’s third oldest operating ballpark after Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Even 30 years after “A League of Their Own” filmed at Bosse Field, its inclusion in the film — including the iconic World Series games — is a point of Evansvillian pride.

Shop for costumes at Nick Nackery
If we’re looking for costumes of all shapes and sizes, then Nick Nackery (201 E. Virginia St.) is the place to we go. As the city’s only year-round costume store, more than just Halloween costumes fill its walls. Shoppers can browse thousands of accessories, party supplies, and makeup that take their outfit to the next level.

Read Evansville Living magazine
Visit an Evansvillian’s home, and it’s not uncommon to find a copy of Evansville Living magazine propped on the coffee table. A source of entertainment, culture, human interest, and food news, Evansville Living offers a slice of life in the River City that has resonated with residents for more than 20 years. Evansvillians also like to give copies of Evansville Living to help acclimate folks who are new in town!

What We Say

Often a fierce debate among Evansville residents is which side is the best side. The city is made up of many distinct neighborhoods, and while they each have their fine points, that won’t stop Evansvillians from displaying pride for our favorite side. The West Side is devoted to its German heritage and industrious character compared to the bustling, commerce-heavy, and modernized East Side and the more spacious and growing North Side.

The city’s most-traveled roads also represent this stark neighborhood contrast, and even define boundaries. Franklin Street on the West Side is dotted with mostly small local businesses, while the North Side — although more residential — is seeing more commerce pop up in North Park and the Boonville-New Harmony crossing at Highway 41. Green River and Burkhardt roads on the East Side are home to both of Evansville’s malls and most of the latest national chains to settle down in the city. Historic Downtown Evansville remains a charming neutral zone that unifies the begrudging surrounding neighborhoods, with the Lloyd Expressway linking the far West Side with Newburgh, Indiana, to the east.

Where Did You Go To School?

Want to give Evansvillians something to talk about? Ask us where we went to school — meaning, high school — and the debate it on. These rivalries can even split households into opposing sides. F.J. Reitz and Mater Dei high schools fight for the West Side’s bragging rights, while Central and North high schools like to talk trash, especially when they face off in the Buehler’s Buy-Low North Bowl. Benjamin Bosse and William Henry Harrison high schools split East Siders’ affections, and football powerhouses Reitz Memorial High School on Evansville’s East Side and Castle High School in Newburgh, Indiana, like to engage in cross-county insults.

High schools are not the only rivalry to fuel our fiery neighborhood feud. West Siders cheer on the Screaming Eagles of their backyard University of Southern Indiana, while East Siders are often staunch supporters of the city’s oldest college, the University of Evansville. Expect this rivalry to intensify as the Screaming Eagles join the Purple Aces in NCAA Division I sports starting in 2022.
But Evansvillians don’t hesitate to come together to celebrate our city’s many unique qualities and culture. As is often the case, more unites us than divides us. Except for sports. But no matter which side of the city you represent, Evansvillians always come together to support each other and display pride in our city.

What We Love

Pronto pups, polka music, street rods in spring — these are a few of Evansvillians’ favorite things. We have many loves, but some are more earnest than others. Here are five that we won’t stop raving about.

Monkey Ship at Mesker Park Zoo
A floating home for primates? It sounds like a tall tale, but it’s true. Christened in 1930, a one-third scale replica of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria ship served as a monkey exhibit at Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden. The “Monkey Ship” was an unusual but popular attraction at the zoo until the 1990s, when officials decided that a ship filled with monkeys and perched on a lake maybe wasn’t the most appropriate environment for primates. The monkeys were moved to a new exhibit, and the boat sat vacant for more than two decades before being refurbished and recommissioned as set dressing for the zoo’s bumper car rides. In the time since, the Monkey Ship has reached almost mythical status, especially among Evansville transplants who never got to see the ship in full swing. Evansvillians love regaling friends with stories of the Monkey Ship and supplying just enough mystery that listeners are left wondering if their friend is pulling their leg.

Evansville-Centric Trivia
Quick — who’s the famous baseball player from Evansville? Retired Yankee Don Mattingly, affectionately known as “Donnie Baseball” to Evansvillians. We recall this fact and more at the drop of a hat, and we’re happy to share our River City trivia knowledge with anyone who will listen. The Conners’ house in the opening credits of “Roseanne”? That’s a point of pride; it’s on the East Side and still painted yellow. Evansville was once known as the refrigerator capital of the world because it cranked out more of the revolutionary chilling machines than anywhere else. Thirty years may have passed since filming, but we can quote “A League of Their Own” trivia for days — and we still hold a grudge against Madonna. (Don’t even get us started.) Think you can keep up with us? Check out our quiz (page 17).

Cool Cars
From peeking into an vintage Triumphs at a British car show to browsing the throngs of classic cars packed into a Donut Bank parking lot at Cars ’n Coffee on Sunday mornings, cool cars and the gatherings that show them off are near and dear to Evansvillians’ hearts. Our fascination is capped off each year by the spectacular, multi-day Frog Follies street rods festival, which draws hundreds of vehicles and thousands of spectators from across the United States. Many shows have drawn such a following that they, like Frog Follies, function as fundraisers for local charities. Gawking over a six cylinder and doing good? We’ll take it.

Our German Heritage
You can be forgiven for being surprised that French explorers first populated what is now Evansville. They may have arrived first, but German settlers soon took over the land directly west of town and led to a flurry of Saxon names. Boehne, Reitz, Schroeder, Koch — tons of famous Evansville families have German roots, and even if each Evansvillian doesn’t, we like to pretend that we do, especially when Germania Maennerchor is throwing a rousing Volksfest party.

The Grey Lady Ghost
Sure, we enjoy getting spooked each Halloween at the Old Vanderburgh County Courthouse catacombs and Downtown’s House of Lector, but Willard Library’s Grey Lady ghost takes the prize for Evansvillians’ fright of choice. First spotted by a library custodian in the 1930s, apparitions — and the distinctly chilly feeling of being near one — have been reported throughout the Victorian Gothic building, and items and furniture are sometimes found in different places than where they were stationed. Rather than scare us off, the Grey Lady fascinates us. Each October, we take ghost tours in hopes of brushing past the Grey Lady, whose identity remains a mystery. Such is our attraction to the Grey Lady that Willard Library has installed a Ghost Cam (willardghost.com/#) so curious ghost hunters can tune in and try to spot Evansville’s most famous apparition.

Ritzy’s Fantasy of Lights
No Christmas in the River City is complete without a drive through Ritzy’s Fantasy of Lights. The annual fundraiser for Easterseals Rehabilitation Center consistently nets thousands of dollars and spectators alike through its cheerful light displays, carriage rides, 5K race, and more. Launching on Thanksgiving evening, it’s fair to say that Ritzy’s Fantasy of Lights kicks off Christmas in Evansville.

Photos by Zach Straw and others provided. Illustrations by Dan Kisner.

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