Sherrel is a buddy of mine at work. He’s also a foodie. It seems like every time he comes by for a chat we end up talking about cooking and food. He drags me out for lunch every other week or so, and he always either wants to try a restaurant he’s heard about or go to a favorite joint for something really good. I’ve had some fabulous lunches thanks to Sherrel!
I had always wanted to try Hollyhock Hill, a restaurant around the corner from work that is famous for its fried chicken dinners. So Sherrel made reservations for us and we had a delicious, though high-calorie, lunch. It put us both in the mood for more fried chicken. We both made some in our homes for our families. We shared the secrets of our recipies. Then Sherrel visited a restaurant in southeastern Indiana that specialized in fried chicken and visited my office the next day extolling the virtues of this restaurant’s peppery chicken coating. He said, “We ought to go down there one day, you and me.” I said, “I hear there’s a tour you can make through southeastern Indiana, eating fried chicken at a bunch of different restaurants.” He said, “We ought to go all over the state eating fried chicken!” I said, “Yeah!” We began to scheme, and the Indiana Fried Chicken Tour was born.
If Indiana isn’t known for fried chicken, it is a gross oversight. “After all,” Sherrel pointed out, “Col. Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame is actually from Indiana. His formative chicken years were spent right here!”
Now, Sherrel and I are busy men with families. Our Indiana Fried Chicken Tour will take considerable time as we work around our commitments. Who knows how often we’ll be able to hit the road together. But we were able to begin our tour not long ago over a workday lunch right here in Indianapolis. And so our Indiana Fried Chicken Tour began, paradoxically at a restaurant that tips its hat to another state: Mississippi Belle.
As you can see, the restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside, though its You Must Eat Here slogan is plenty bold. Mississippi Belle is known as a soul-food restaurant, serving simple but delicious foods such as fried catfish, greens, liver and onions, marinated ribs, macaroni and cheese – and, of course, fried chicken.
Our visit to Mississippi Belle was on impulse, so I didn’t have my good camera along. This slightly blurry mobile-phone shot was the best I could do! The food came to us in no time. The lunch fried-chicken portion is a very healthy-sized breast and a drumstick. To me, green beans and mashed potatoes and gravy are right with fried chicken, so that’s what I ordered.
The chicken was very crispy on the outside and juicy to the bone on the inside. I was especially impressed given that they had to prepare the chicken in advance to be able to bring it to us so fast. The coating was light (“more chicken than coating,” the menu said) and lightly seasoned. The mashed potatoes were creamy with little bits of solid potato inside – in other words, truly mashed, not made from dried flakes. The gravy was as lightly seasoned as the chicken coating and was just the right thickness. The green beans were the only disappointment. The flavor was good, but the beans themselves were overcooked and had little body.
Sherrel ordered greens and macaroni and cheese with his chicken. He reported that the greens had good flavor and texture, and that the macaroni and cheese was above average but not the height of greatness.
Our lunches came with a plate of hot-water cornbread atop sliced onions. The cornbread had a wonderful slightly-sweet roasted-corn flavor and excellent density. There was even a little snap in the deep-fried exterior when I bit into it.
What you can’t see on the check in the photo above is that our lunches cost $6.48 each, plus drink. What a bargain! If you go in the evening, dinners are served family style. Each diner chooses a meat and the table chooses four sides to share. Most dinners are $13, give or take, and they’ll keep bringing food until you’re stuffed. My brother wants to take me out for a belated birthday, and I’ve already told him this is where we’re going. If you want to go sometime, too, you’ll find Mississippi Belle in the South Broad Ripple neighborhood in Indianapolis, at 2170 E. 54th St., just west of Keystone Avenue. Just be sure to bring cash, as it’s the only payment they accept.