Hollyhock Hill is in a class of Indiana restaurants that reminds of times gone by. We’ve visited two other such places on the Indiana Fried Chicken Tour: Kopper Kettle and The Iron Skillet. Traditional, genteel, and quaint, these places feel like stepping into a country homestead in how we all imagine 1928 must have been (which, incidentally, is the year Hollyhock Hill opened). They tend to be built into old houses, with interiors painted bright white and hung with whimsical decorations. Every table is a little bit different – one is round and covered with a short white tablecloth under a thick layer of glass; the next is rectangular with a brightly colored tablecloth; a third is oval with a frilly place mat at each setting. Ordinary glassware, flatware, and china are used, but are arranged so nicely that as you sit down you feel as though this will be a fine dining experience. Indeed, Hollyhock Hill and its ilk are as much about the experience as about the food.
Sherrel and I work a mile or so away from Hollyhock Hill, which is at 8110 N. College Ave. on Indianapolis’s Far Northside. Because it’s so easy to get to, we have visited before on our lunch hour, but not since beginning the Indiana Fried Chicken Tour. Hollyhock Hill is open for lunch only when a large group has reserved the restaurant for an event, so call ahead to check availability. They recommend reservations for dinner.
Hollyhock Hill specializes in family-style dinners and while they’re known for fried chicken, they offer steaks and seafood too. Lunches are plated and limited in portion. All of their meals begin with pickled beets and an iceberg salad with a sweet house dressing. Sherrel liked the beets but they’re not my thing and I stayed away. The salad is very well executed and is exactly what it means to be with mild, sweet flavors, but I wished for more and ate only a few bites.
Biscuits came next, to go with the apple butter brought with the salad and beets. Aren’t they gorgeous? Unfortunately, they were dense and tough, though applying a little apple butter helped dissolve my disappointment.
Shortly the main event arrived. I was struck by how green the green beans were. They came from a can, but were firm and mildly seasoned. Sherrel said he found both ham and bacon pieces mixed in. The mashed potatoes were whipped smooth with good potato flavor and a mild note of something else I couldn’t place. I covered mine in cream gravy. What it lacked in flavor it made up for in thickness and smoothness.
Sherrel and I agree: chicken is best fried in lard. Our hearts and arteries might not agree, but we aren’t asking them. Based on mouth feel, we think Hollyhock Hill fries in lard. Mmboy! The coating was thin and crispy everywhere, which we both like, but we wished for a little more spice. The chicken inside was a tiny bit dry, the breast more so than the thigh. We decided this was an anomaly, as the chicken was plenty juicy on our last visit. We didn’t detect any seasoning in the meat, but the dark meat carried a great deal more good natural chicken flavor than the white. When my plate was empty but for bones, I wished I could have had another thigh.
Our server made herself invisible but was clearly paying attention because the moment we finished, she cleared away our plates and brought out ice cream and bowls full of chocolate, butterscotch, and creme de menthe sauces. I’m a butterscotch fan and this stuff’s full flavor did not disappoint, making what was otherwise an everyday bowl of ice cream a delightful finish to my meal.
Lunch was $12.95 and included coffee, tea, or milk. I had the coffee and it was regular Joe, a good, honest cup. It went with a good, honest meal.
Indiana fried chicken also comes soul-food style. Check out Mississippi Belle and Kountry Kitchen.