EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- At the southern tip of Indiana along the Ohio River, in the southern end of the city of Evansville, there is an area locals know as Cypress, named for the trees that grow along the riverbank. There is one part of Cypress some folks still call Dogtown, named for reasons no one we asked could remember. Dogtown is not a place most sightseers accidentally find themselves; but if you are moseying through the southern Midwest (indeed, a lovely place to mosey) and have a hankering for real American food, we suggest you seek it out. In particular, look for the Dogtown Tavern. And be prepared to eat hearty.
"Over 100 years of home style cookin'," boasted the small advertisement for the tavern we spotted in the Evansville newspaper the Sunday afternoon we were passing through. The ad also promised "You Won't Leave Hungry."
When we found our way to Dogtown, we had no problems locating the Dogtown Tavern. It looks 100 years old. It lists with age, and it has been augmented with extra rooms and enclosed porches over the years. Inside, belt-driven ceiling fans spin slowly above gray Formica tables and vinyl-covered chairs. Next to the bar, on a refrigerator, the chef had taped a list of the day's pies. In one big dining area, large groups of people surrounded tables and ate their meals family-style, passing food and gabbing like it was Thanksgiving.
A prime rib dinner came hanging-off-the-plate huge, juice-dripping luscious and butter-knife tender . . . albeit a bit bland the way prime rib can often be. Our catfish (there were two on the plate) were snappingly seasoned in a fine brittle crust.
Our most vivid taste memories of the Dogtown Tavern are of its side dishes and potatoes. There is terrific cole slaw -- tart and vinegar-spiked; sweet cinnamony applesauce; and delectable vTC American fried potatoes with onions. Best of all, there is Kate's potato: a stupendous spud-in-a-bowl that we have made a dozen times at home for ourselves (as a mini-meal) since coming home from Dogtown. As they serve it at the tavern, Kate's potato is a side dish, reminiscent of German potato salad. But don't be shy about turning it into something even grander. Once you get it broken up in the bowl, this kind of dish inspires creativity: Top it with melted cheese, chili, broken-up sizzled burger or ground turkey meat, or whatever savory goodies you have on hand.
Potato in a bowl
Makes 1 serving.
hot baked potato
1 tablespoon butter (or more, to taste)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon diced dill pickle
2 ounces melted cheese
crumbled burger meat
1 sliced hot dog
1/2 cup cooked, chopped, seasoned broccoli
Cut baked potato, including the skin, into bite-size pieces in a soup bowl. If it is mushy and doesn't cut neatly, don't worry. Toss potato (but don't mash) with butter, salt and pepper. Mix together vinegar and diced dill pickle. Toss with seasoned potato. Top with optional toppings of choice. Reheat if desired to melt cheese.
Dogtown Tavern, Old Henderson Road, Cypress (south of Evansville), Ind. 47712; (812) 423-0808.