- 128 W. Main St, Milltown, IN
- (812) 633-7510
- Overall User Rating:
- (1 rating)
- Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (brunch is served until 3 p.m.)
- Official Web Site:
In May 2010, a fire destroyed the building that housed the Blue River Café. It was a handsome, aging building, built in the late 19th century to serve as the lodge of the Knights of Pythias in Milltown, a Southern Indiana town 45 miles west of Louisville. An account in the Corydon Democrat newspaper reported that the building’s timbers were so sturdy that even the blaze couldn’t bring it down; firefighters had to bring in an excavator to dig away at the roof in order to attack the smoldering interior.
Mark and Debbie Woods, who opened the Blue River Café in 1989, must be as tough as those timbers. With their everything lost — including a lifetime collection of cookbooks and recipes — they could easily enough have called it quits.
Instead, they regrouped, rebuilt and reopened. And though the new version of the Blue River Café is decidedly more modern than the old — in a host of good ways, including improved accessibility, more dining space, and what looks to be significantly more kitchen space — they’ve managed to retain the café’s stately small-town charm and, if anything, have ratcheted up the quality of the cuisine.
The interiors are bright, calm and comfortable and include a graceful front dining room (with a splendid ceiling made of vintage tin tiles salvaged from a Corydon building that was also destroyed by fire), an intimate little bar and a sweeping performance/dining space in the back that features an impressive rotation of regional blues, country and folk musicians.
Service has all the warmth you could hope to find in a small-town restaurant and perhaps more efficiency than you might hope for even in the most bustling urban setting (though it’s worth noting that on recent visits the place has been hopping, both at lunchtime and in the evening; a wise diner will call for reservations before setting out on the half-hour drive across the rolling landscape that connects Louisville to Milltown.
It’s a very pleasant drive, but know this: You should immediately discard any notion that “getting there is half the fun.” No matter how scenic the farms, fields, cattle and barns, once you sit down at the Blue River Café, you’ll realize that eating there is all the fun.
At lunchtime (or dinner, for that matter) you might tuck into a burger or barbecue sandwich made from locally raised Angus beef (the sandwiches will run around $6; add a couple of sides and the price rises to about $8). Or you can feast on the iconic Hoosier sandwich: a hand-cut, hand-breaded pork tenderloin, its tender flesh cloaked in golden crunch ($5.50/$8), dressed with fresh local tomatoes. You’ll want the sides: french fries that look like planks carved from fresh potatoes, finely milled coleslaw served in a fetching oyster-shaped bowl of iceberg lettuce.
There are soups, salads and sandwiches enough to please both omnivores and vegetarians, and weekly rotation of lunch and dinner specials takes advantage of the seasonal harvest — and gives Debbie Woods an opportunity to follow her rustic gourmet muse.
A week or so ago she served tender slabs of flank steak, carved on the bias, slathered with apple butter that added deep caramel notes and a majestic aroma without a trace of sweetness ($16.95) — just the sort of dish that matches well with the café’s excellent list of beers, which extends from regional craft offerings to great Belgian ales.
Equally impressive was a tangle of perfectly cooked linguine sauced in light, aromatic olive oil, garlic and herbs, dressed in colorful abundance with lovely sautéed shrimp, chunks of smoky bacon and plenty of mushrooms, red bell peppers, spinach and onions ($17.95). That night, a diner could also have opted for beer-battered eggplant, fried and stuffed with a medley of vegetables, then drizzled with béarnaise ($14.95); Black Angus prime rib au jus (various portion sizes, $15.95-$21.95); pecan-encrusted tilapia ($17.95); or a host of other dishes.
Woods doesn’t neglect her side dishes, either. She brings a graceful touch to platters of watermelon salad, lima beans gently scented with fresh Italian herbs, and hand-breaded florets of gently fried cauliflower — and when she carves kernels of corn straight from the cob and turns them into a custardy corn pudding, the results are sublime.
Speaking of sublime, Blue River Café’s bread pudding with Captain Morgan’s Hard Sauce has long been the stuff of legend. All too often, reality doesn’t live up to legend. But that’s not the case here — when you call for reservations, you might also want to reserve some bread pudding.