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Weekender: Bloomington, Indiana

Roger Davies

Photo: Roger Davies

There's shwarma at the Trojan Horse, couscous at the Little Princess, naan at Shanti, and Guinness (on tap) at the Irish Lion—and those are just a few entries on the town's lengthy list of ethnic eats. Here are a few other culinary stars:

Janko's Little Zagreb 223 W. Sixth St.; 812/332-0694; dinner for two $40. Red-gingham tablecloths and vintage football posters make the space feel more like a pep rally than a popular Yugoslavian-cum-American steak house. Owner John Pouch opened the restaurant in the seventies in memory of his grandparents, who came from a town outside Zagreb. (His grandmother used to call him Janko, with the j pronounced as a y—the Slavic diminutive for John.) The original menu, filled with Yugoslav delicacies, didn't go over too well in these parts, so now the chef mostly sticks to the more familiar grilled chops, fillets, and T-bones. By keeping décor and side dishes to a minimum, Zagreb's (as regulars call it) concentrates on what's really important: meat. The few remaining traditional dishes are well worth trying, such as palidzan-sa-sirom (eggplant and other vegetables in a spicy, garlicky tomato sauce), or "flaming Gypsy beef kebabs"—served with fire and all.

Scholars Inn Gourmet Café & Wine Bar 717 N. College Ave.; 812/332-1892; dinner for two $50. "We put the name of the chef on the menu, and that's a pretty big deal for Bloomington," the waitress says with pride after she reads the specials. It's a good idea, because Richelle Wylie's fresh approach to the usual dishes should be attached indelibly to her name. Entrées such as pan-seared halibut with chipotle sauce, accompanied by black beans and rice, and pork chops marinated in citrus teriyaki sauce served with cranberry chutney and creamed spinach, are followed by mouthwatering desserts—especially the apple crumble topped with caramel-and-almond whipped cream. In case you don't know which of the 108 wines would best complement your meal, Wylie has listed her favorite next to each dish.

Runcible Spoon 412 E. Sixth St.; 812/334-3997; breakfast for two $10. Scoot past the coffee-shop junkies playing checkers out front and go directly down the staircase, hung with artwork by local Picassos, to find one of the finest breakfast joints in town. In a wood-paneled room, everyone from hippies to professors feasts on fresh-fruit pancakes or eggs Benedict while filling in the blanks of a crossword puzzle left behind by the previous patron. Don't be surprised to find yourself sharing the rest room with a beady-eyed goldfish—the Spoon converted an unused bathtub into an aquarium. Just be sure to leave the lights on; the fish are afraid of the dark.

Michael's Uptown Café 102 E. Kirkwood Ave.; 812/339-0900; brunch for two $20. What happens when you mix the Creole spices of New Orleans with the unpretentious style of the Midwest?You get one of the most eccentric menus in town—country cooking with a kick. While Michael's dinner menu is inspired by Big Easy nights, it's the Sunday brunch (a plateful of andouille omelettes, biscuits and gravy, spicy home fries) that would really make Emeril Lagasse tingle.

Laughing Planet Café 322 E. Kirkwood Ave.; 812/323-2233; lunch for two $14. The tacky decoration—red and yellow walls, a statuette of the Virgin of Guadeloupe—is the perfect complement to the equally wacky, gigantic burritos. Take the seven-ingredient Cuban burrito, for example: beans, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, plantains, barbecue sauce, and banana salsa (hemp cheese available on request). Before you tackle the oversized wrap, consult the explicit burrito-eating instructions on each table. The abridged version: Hold vertically; munch downward, peeling wrapper as you go; avoid fingers.


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