If you were going to borrow the tongue of a grocer’s wife, as the goblin does in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of The Goblin and the Grocer, you should use it, not to allow a coffee mill to speak (“how it did chatter away”), but to eat at this establishment.
I found Goblin & the Grocer on Yelp. I’m not a huge fan of Yelp’s business practices, but the app does make it quick and easy to find a place to eat after a hike. Five minutes outside the park, at the corner of West Dunes Highway and Broadway Street, was a restaurant with a name that caught my attention. Goblin & the Grocer, I thought, how can I not?
I walked in at 4:30pm, and was greeted by a friendly server who had a trainee in tow. “We’re only serving appetizers until 5:00pm,” she said. I had arrived right in the middle of “Goblin Hour”, the Grocer’s version of happy hour. I still had five hours of driving in front of me, so I took what I could get. “Great,” I replied and was shown to a table in the small dining room.
Goblin & the Grocer had a sort of industrial/modern decor. Some tables were polished wood with black iron chairs, others were matte steel with chairs of wicker in a black and white chevron pattern. The bar was separated from the dining area by a stone knee-wall with a faux fireplace, and opposite the bar was a large deli case filled with delicious-looking desserts.
My first question is usually about local beers. My server directed me to a large chalkboard above the bar but had a few suggestions. At the top of her list was 18th Street Brewery’s Under Crown IPA. Always wanting to heed a server’s recommendation, I ordered one. It came ice-cold with a thin head of foam. I tasted it. Wow! Big winner there! Full of flavor, not overly bitter, a citrusy overtone – I particularly like citrus in an India Pale Ale. The 18th Street Brewery website describes it this way:
“A Bone-Shatteringly Juicy Double IPA Brewed with Simcoe, Mosaic, & Crystal Rye Malt.”
This was an especially good India Pale Ale. Excuse me, Double IPA. Double, or Imperial, IPAs have an alcohol-by-volume of 7% or more. Beer Advocate agrees with my assessment, giving Under Crown an impressive 94 points. Its 8% ABV packs a punch as well … I know, I had two.
I looked over the menu then asked the server to help. Everything looked good, but I had some questions about the mussels – they were described as “chowder style with sautéed sausage, corn, heavy cream and kick of Calabrian ‘nduja butter”. My server explained that the mussels were served, not in a typical white wine reduction, but in a creamy, corn-laden sauce that you will want to sop up with your bread. Okay, I added the part about the bread – you’re going to want to trust me on this one.
Calabrian ‘nduja [(ə)nˈdo͞oyə] butter is a spicy compound butter derived from ‘nduja, a spreadable salami. Both originated in southern Italy – The Calabria region forms the toe of the boot.
When the mussels came out, they were everything I could have imagined. An enormous pile of tender bivalves swimming in chowder and dripping in butter. Bits of sausage dotted the mound, and it was topped with an entire loaf of bread. Sound excessive? Get back to me after you’ve downed the mussels and are faced with an entire bowl of sumptuous chowder and no spoon. I could have asked for a spoon I suppose … but I had bread. Lots of bread. At $15 this was a steal; if you’re not absolutely ravenous, it’s easily your whole meal.
The meatballs (did I mention that I ordered meatballs too?) arrived next. There were four reasonably sized balls drenched in a chunky tomato sauce and topped with a healthy dollop of ricotta cheese. The cheese was blanketed in coarsely ground black pepper. Fanned out attractively around the meatballs were four corresponding slices of golden-brown toasted baguette. I dug in.
The braised meatballs were tender and juicy, the sauce bursting with flavor, and the baguette crisp. The seasoned ricotta elevated the dish, adding a tang that cut through the heavy flavors of coarsely ground beef and tomato sauce. It was hearty and substantive, perfect fuel to recover from climbing sand dunes. As good as the meatballs were, however, the mussels won the day. I declined dessert – even after seven and a half miles and three dunes, I was completely satisfied by these two starters.
Goblin & the Grocer is expensive but worth it. For the second time in as many days, I had eschewed my usual dirt-cheap, hole-in-the-wall chow-shack and shelled out top dollar for a post-hike meal. Unlike the Branded Steer, however, Goblin & the Grocer is just outside the park and close to many Indiana trails. I plunked down $51.80 for two appetizers and two beers, but felt as if I had gotten good value for my money. I will not soon forget those mussels, though if I’d downed just one more IPA … who knows? I left feeling happy and not just because of the beer. So if you’re hiking in Indiana Dunes State Park or America’s newest national park, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and want to chow down in style afterward, drop in on Goblin & the Grocer. And if you’re a beer connoisseur … well, I think you know what to do. ♦
Date: March 15, 2020
Location: 41.672220, -86.985739
Price Range: $$$
Everything Else: ★★★★