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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Red Wagon

Fields. That’s all I saw on my 20- minute drive from Downtown Evansville through the neighboring Indiana town of Poseyville. I had high expectations for my restaurant destination (I had scanned the well-designed website just before leaving), but with each passing cornfield I began to think my GPS had failed me. It hadn’t. At the moment the screen showed a black-and-white checkered flag indicating my arrival, I saw it.

The Red Wagon snuck up on me amid the deceiving middle-of-nowhere scenery. Its exterior is unmistakable — red lettering lit up by hanging lights along a dominating vinyl roof and a long Cracker Barrel-style porch with wooden benches for overflow customers. Although I visited on a conservative weeknight, weekends at the Red Wagon often showcase a full parking lot, as if all 1,000 Poseyville residents are having the same craving for spicy dirty rice or stuffed potato skins at the same time.

Formerly called the Feed Mill Restaurant and Bar, the eatery became the Red Wagon in September 2011 to step from the shadows of the Feed Mill Restaurant in Morganfield, Ky. Ownership is separate between the businesses, but owners from the Poseyville restaurant signed a contract enabling them to mirror the name and menu off of the Cajun-influenced store in Morganfield. When time came to renew the contract in 2011, Dave and Jane Reising, Red Wagon owners, along with their four investment partners, declined. After three years of good business, the couple thought they were ready to branch out on their own. With the name change came a menu makeover. “A lot of people’s likes and dislikes are different in Indiana versus Kentucky,” Dave Reising says. “We’ve tailored the menu to our local clientele.”

Inside, décor often changes with the seasons in Red Wagon’s front lobby, save for some regulars including a 36-foot, 3-piece mural depicting Posey County farm life on the back wall, a 1929 International 6-speed Special truck behind the hostess stand, and blue, green, and red lights (which create a Mardi Gras vibe) visible in the sports bar. Throughout the restaurant, wooden paneling complements old photographs of Poseyville in the 1900s, a stone fireplace connecting two of the three dining rooms, the stuffed buffalo, fish, and deer heads in the game room, and recurring displays of mini tractors and farm equipment. “There’s people who just come out of the woodwork and donate items,” says Reising. “It happens every week.” They have been given so many items that much of it has been in storage for the past three years.

In the main dining room, where one of those items — a 1920s photograph of Poseyville farmers threshing wheat ­ — overlooked our booth, my guest and I made a quick decision to order the stuffed potato skins appetizer, loaded with bacon, tomatoes, and jalapeño cheddar (a must for Red Wagon first-timers, said our waiter). For the entrée, I had a hard time choosing between the all-you-can-eat barbecue pulled pork, which also included all-you-can-eat baked beans, fried potatoes, coleslaw, and rye bread; the pasta primavera, a mixture of broccoli, mushrooms, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and carrots with fettuccini sautéed in olive oil and smothered in Italian seasoning; or the homestyle dirty rice (manager’s recommendation) cooked with chicken livers, sausage, and bacon. I chose the Cornish game hen. The fried poultry, which came smothered in flavor with a blend of herbs and spices, the beer-battered onion rings, and the loaded macaroni and cheese sprinkled with bacon left little room for more, yet somehow I managed to eat a slice of the peanut butter pie with whipped topping and an Oreo crust.

Red Wagon’s menu is equipped to handle even the most health-conscious of diners with selections such as the colorful roasted vegetable platter decorated with green peppers, white cauliflower, and red tomatoes (seasoned with kosher salt, pepper, garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil). The menu also includes the standard list of burgers and sandwiches, from a 6-slice-bacon BLT on white or wheat bread to a fried catfish fillet on a hoagie bun. Cajun items such as the Bayou-style stew and the Bayou-shrimp offer a sense of the old Feed Mill while the rest reflect the restaurant’s southern Indiana style. Brent Tharp, Red Wagon’s general manager, says the customers had a big part in the menu change. “We had run lunch and dinner specials for six months prior to the change,” he says. “That gave us an idea of what we needed to put on the menu.” Now, he adds, “it fits every taste bud.”

The Red Wagon

Location: 6950 N. Frontage Road, Poseyville, Ind.  •  Phone: (812) 874-2221  •  Dining Hours: 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Thur., 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.  •  Sports Bar Hours: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Thur., 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.  •  Adult Beverages: Yes  •  Prices: Average entree is $9-$15  •  Reservations: Yes  •  Payment: Accepts MasterCard, Visa and Discover.  •  Website: www.redwagonrestaurant.com

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