The Indiana Fried Chicken Tour: The Iron Skillet
Sherrel and I have grand plans to travel the state on our fried-chicken quest. But traveling Indiana’s highways can be risky in January and February, when winter is worst here. Until the weather warms up we’re staying close to home.
This time we stayed very close to home, straying about three miles from my northwest Indianapolis home to the Iron Skillet, at 2489 W. 30th St. I’ve driven by innumerable times over the years. I’m quite embarrassed that this was my first visit! The restaurant occupies a late-1800s farmhouse and has been serving hungry Hoosiers family-style dinners since 1956. We were led to a table on what must have been the home’s grand front porch before it was enclosed. We had a commanding view of 30th St. below, as the house stands high on a hill.
White is the go-to color inside, which makes the restaurant bright and cheerful. The tables were all covered with vinyl tablecloths with a knit mat at each place.
Almost as quickly as we were seated, our server appeared to take our drink order. Dinner includes coffee or tea, but we started with water. Shortly our server delivered bowls of pickled beets, cottage cheese, and apple butter, with a wedge of lettuce covered with homemade dressing. Sherrel went to town on the pickled beets while I pulled a bit of the lettuce onto my salad plate. The thin, slightly sweet vinaigrette raised the crisp iceberg beyond its station.
When offered onion soup or juice for our first course, we both chose the soup. Gently creamy and filled with buttery toasted croutons, its delicate onion flavor was delightful.
The people at the Iron Skillet know just what they’re doing, plying us with such mild but delicious beginnings to our meal. For when the main course arrived by and by, its excellent full flavor knocked our socks off all the more. Bowls full of corn, green beans, and mashed potatoes appeared first, followed by a bowl of cream gravy and a basket of buttermilk biscuits. Then came one whole chicken, in pieces of course, for the two of us. I loaded up my plate and got to work.
The biscuits were small and square with a light, crumbly texture. The potatoes were whipped smooth. I prefer the texture of mashed, but these potatoes had good body and potato flavor. The gravy was thick and smooth but added little flavor to the potatoes. I skipped the corn but went back for seconds on the green beans. They were well seasoned with a hint of spiciness that managed not to hide the green bean flavor. If any fat was used in cooking these beans I couldn’t tell it, which was just fine with me.
The chicken’s coating, which Sherrel thought was flour and I thought was batter, was mildly seasoned and not quite crispy. I like a bit of crisp in my coating, but when I tasted the chicken inside I forgot all about that. Inside was the juiciest, most flavorful chicken I’ve ever had. The chicken had to be marinated or brined for it to carry so much flavor, though I couldn’t identify any particular spices. And when I bit into the breast, I leaned in quickly so the running juices would land on my plate and not my shirt! It seemed to Sherrel that the chicken was cooked in vegetable oil. We both prefer the mouth feel of lard. But the chicken’s good flavor carried the day as I happily ate four pieces.
So I was quite full when I finally pushed my plate away, too full really for the dessert that followed. We were offered ice cream or sherbet. Sherrel went for the ice cream, French vanilla, which came with bowls full of strawberry, chocolate, butterscotch, and mint toppings on the side. Since dairy and I don’t get along so well anymore, I chose the sherbet. It was dense, slightly creamy, and strongly raspberry flavored, but I was so full from the chicken that I didn’t finish it.
Somewhere during the meal Sherrel and I decided we wanted coffee. We each enjoyed another cup as we considered our swollen bellies and compared notes on our excellent dinner. We both agreed it was a winner, well worth the bill of about $19 each. Sherrel didn’t say anything, but I’m sure he thinks I’m a knucklehead for living nearby for so many years without having visited the Iron Skillet.