Travel, Etc. --> Great Food & Art on Wheels!
Great Food & Art on Wheels!
A vist to Auburn and dining at Joseph Decuis
Two weeks ago, Linda finally pointed out to me that the last time I took a Saturday off was June 11th... and, that just maybe the new store wouldn't fall apart if I wasn't there for one day. Then, obviously knowing that I would stay home and call in every two hours, she planned a one night trip that we have talked about for two years. She knew that I have always wanted to see the Auburn Cord Dusenberg Museum up in Auburn. And, since we had also been talking about wanting to visit the restaurant Joseph Decuis (De-Quese) in Roanoke, she set up the road trip. And, yes, in case you are wondering, I know how lucky I am to have a wife who actually finds an antique auto museum interesting and plans a trip around it!
Auburn, Indiana is located about 20 miles North of Fort Wayne and just about two hours and seventy years up I-69 from I-465. Auburn had its 15 minutes of fame somewhere between 1930 and 1937 when it was home to the factories that built the three finest, most advanced automobiles of their day... the front wheel drive Cord, the flashy Auburn, and the vehicle believed by most serious car buffs to be the finest automobile ever built, the Duesenberg. Today, as home to the famous Kruse Auction and the Auburn Cord and Duesenberg Festival every fall, Auburn is still dominated by automobiles that have not been manufactured since 1937.
The museum is located on the near south side of town in the original corporate headquarters building that E.L. Cord built in 1929. It is a magnificant art deco structure that has been painstakingly restored so that its intricate terrazzo floor, elaborate ceiling borders, chandeliers and wall sconces are all as they appeared in 1930. The front of the building was designed as a showroom that reflected the way Mr. Cord thought that his automobiles should displayed — opulently.
As a boy who grew up in Indianapolis during the 1950s and 1960s, I worshipped automobiles. We cut high school to watch Jim Hurtibese and Parnelli Jones practice at the Speedway, subscribed to all the car magazines and never missed a car show of any kind. College in the late 60s changed all that, but I never lost my awe of the magnificent machines we saw at those car shows. So, even today visiting that museum made me feel a little bit the way some people might feel visiting the Vatican. I lost count of the number of Duesenbergs we saw, each and every one of them worth well in excess of a million dollars. When you realize just how valuable these automobiles are, the sheer scale of the museum is staggering.
Blue Dusey Duesenbergs were among the most luxurious automobiles of their day selling for almost $16,000 when a new Ford cost about $800. By today's standards, that would make them sell for perhaps $300,000 to $400,000. These were serious autombiles and if you want to see them in all their glory... this museum has them. Lots of them... from countless model Js to the touring car that William Randolph Hearst and Marian Davies used to tour Europe in the 1930s.
You begin your tour in the showroom where you can easily spend an hour looking at lovingly restored cars like this Auburn Boat Tailed Speedster, one of the fastest cars of its day.
Or this beautiful front wheel drive Cord coupe that was custom-built for the president of General Motors. Cords were the first cars with retractable headlights. GM would catch up to that with the Corvette Stingray sometime in the 1960s. These companies also developed unit body construction, front-wheel drive, hydraulic brakes and the supercharger that was first used in Duesenberg's Indianapolis race cars.
In addition to the showroom the main floor also houses the "Gallery of Special Interest Automobiles." This is where some more modern, but certainly worthy cars are displayed... like an early 1950s Ferrari Mexico, a perfectly restored 1963 XKE, a 427 AC Cobra and at least a dozen other great automobiles, including this perfect and original Mercedes Gullwing coupe.
Then, just when you think you are finished, you ascend the grand staircase to the third floor and discover that you have just begun to see the museum. You think you saw Duesies and boat tailed speedsters on the first floor... think again, here is an even larger floor filled with cars. The "Gallery of Classics" contains a little bit of everything, including mid-thirties Cadillacs, Lincoln Zephyrs, Stutz Bearcats, Pierce Arrows and a Mercedes SSK. Then, on to the Gallery of "Early Auburn Automobiles" (1900-1924) , "The Cars of Indiana Gallery" (have you ever seen a Cole?) "The Hall of Technology" and finally, the restored design studios, executive offices and board room. It's quite a show and more than worth the $8.00 price of admission. In fact, I almost wonder how they pay the insurance bill when you realize the value of what you are seeing... the word priceless comes to mind.
Actually, Linda's planning a visit to a car museum was not exactly a selfless act, since her hobby is using her Canon digital SLR and this museum was a perfect excuse... here are a few of her hood ornament and interior studies....
Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum
1600 South Wayne Street Auburn, Indiana
Next: On to Joseph Decuis....
A Visit to Joseph Decuis
We have been hearing rumblings about a fine dining restaurant in a small town just south of Fort Wayne for several years now. And after having numerous people in the wine business tell me that they think that it may be Indiana's finest restaurant... we had to find out.
So, after our afternoon at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg museum in Auburn, we traveled about twenty miles south to the tiny town of Roanoke. Entering Roanoke, you are first struck by the how neat and well-restored the downtown area appears... there is a notable lack of retail businesses, yet everything is clean and well maintained. The reason, we came to learn, is Pete Eshelman and his wife Alice, who brought his company, American Specialty Insurance, to Roanoke 16 years ago. American Specialty is a niche insurer specializing is sports and entertainment insurance. And obviously, they have been very successful, since their headquarters seem to occupy a big chunk of Main Street. After settling in Roanoke, it seems that Pete became a tireless promoter of the town, leading its restoration and even writing a book of its history.
Then, in 2000 they found a new way to put Roanoke on the map. Alice opened Joseph Decuis (day-kweeze), named after a Revolutionary War-era Creole ancestor. The restaurant prospered and two years ago they added a bed and breakfast... and this is where we came in.
The Inn is located in a charming 1912 Victorian home just a short three-block walk up Main Street from the restaurant. They have four guest rooms, three which share a bath (a problem to be cured by an addition this spring) and a master room we reserved with a king-sized bed and spacious modern bath with an open shower, large tub and dressing area. The home has been completely restored to its original state and furnished with some beautiful antiques and period pieces. We wished for warmer weather since the wide front porch and comfortable back yard would have made a great venue for a good book and a glass of wine in the afternoon, but we found that the parlor worked just fine.
And the breakfast on Sunday was worthy of the restaurant that prepared it...French toast stuffed with gingered pears and sweetened ricotta cheese with crisp bacon, homemade blueberry muffins and fresh fruit. It insured that I would spend the next week back on my diet. If you go, make sure you get the master suite or wait for the renovations, bring a good book (not much shopping in Roanoke — okay, none), be sure to bring your own wine and walk, don't drive to dinner... then you won't have to worry about enjoying a glass of Armagnac in the piano bar afterwards.
The Restaurant at Joseph Decuis
Even more impressive than the Inn is the restaurant that occupies three buildings on Main Street. When we arrived at 7:15 on Saturday evening, the place was bustling with activity with almost every table taken. The restaurant has four dining areas. The first room you enter is called Cafe Creole and is dominated by the large open kitchen at the back. That was where we dined and we found it to be a very comfortable room, with the tables well spaced and walls covered with some very nice original art. A door near the kitchen takes you next door to the Club Creole, which is located in the former State Bank of Roanoke. This more formal dining room has bright yellow walls, dark woodwork, more original art and a long antique bar. Good use has been made of the former bank vaults by turning them into a wine cellar and cigar humidor.
The Cafe Creole is flanked on the other side by the Conservatory, a glass-enclosed dining room filled with greenery and a courtyard for al fresco dining in the warmer months. A courtyard behind looked very inviting and would certainly be our choice on a warmer evening. The menu was extensive and filled with some very tempting items. Appetizers ranged from $10 for the Duck Spring Rolls to $26 for the seared foie gras on five-spice French toast. Soups and salads ranged from $8 for the gumbo du jour to our favorite, the orchard harvest salad at $12. Eight entrées graced the January menu ranging from $24 to $38. It was all I could do not to order the Braised Colorado Lamb Shank, but since Linda had her heart set on the six-course Chef's Tasting Menu, I followed suit.
Throughout the evening, the service provided by the wait staff was as professional as you would expect in New York or Chicago. Our waiter was very efficient, while remaining pleasantly unobtrusive, and courses were delivered to tables by a swarm of staff the moment they appeared on the ledge of the open kitchen. The wine list is extensive, comprising over 500 selections and more than 4,000 bottles. And, the good news is... it is very fairly priced, hovering at about twice retail and substantially less on many higher-end wines. We found the Chappellet Signature Cabernet at $95 (WG Price $47), the Nickel & Nickel Sullenger Cabernet $140 (WG Price $79) and finally our pick, the Two Hands Brave Faces Grenache Shiraz at $49 (WG Price $29). By fine dining standards, they were an amazing value. By comparison the "by the glass" program was a little disappointing because of its brevity with only five white and six red selections. They definitely seem to want to sell wine by the bottle. And what we thought about the list was confirmed from their receipt of multiple years of the Wine Spectator awards.
We began with glasses of the Prum Riesling Kabinette that paired beautifully with a first course of curried yellow bell pepper bisque that was presented in a demitasse cup with a swirl of orange-infused olive oil. It also complemented the appetizer, a five-spice seared diver scallop on wasabi mashed potatoes with a black truffle yaki sauce. We had no idea what yaki was but the sauce was delicious, very rich, with a touch of tarragon, and it really set off the tender scallop. I later used Google to discover that yaki is a word used on Japanese menus to indicate grilled or grilling. I suppose that if you're going to prepare dishes this complicated, the name should should be as exotic as the dish.
The Orchard Harvest salad arrived about the same time as the Two Hands Brave Faces Grenache-Shiraz, and we finished our Riesling as we enjoyed the truly wonderful amalgamation of greens, blue cheese, apples and glazed walnuts with white balsamic vinaigrette...very nice. Then came course four, Polenta con Arogosta, poached lobster, corn and rosemary in a lobster polenta. A nice dish, not as rich as it sounds, that worked surprisingly well with the ultra-ripe Grenache Shiraz... or maybe we were just really ready for some red wine.
The entrée, on the other hand, could not have been a better match for the wine. The Wagyu "Kobe" Beef Filet was served with a truffled mushroom ragout and really tiny chestnut, honey-glazed baby Brussells sprouts. The beef was excellent, perfectly medium-rare and almost fork-tender. Unfortunately, the only failing of the evening was the kitchen's timing of the last dish... after the flawless pace of the first four dishes there was an interminable wait for the entrée. Their rhythm was back with the dessert, a Warbird Root Beer Float made with Fort Wayne-based Warbird Brewing's T-6 Red Ale, root beer reduction and house made vanilla ice cream. And, yes it sure sounded strange, but it tasted great. A little like the ones we used to get at A&W, only on steroids.
Overall, the service was excellent, the food and presentation sublime and atmosphere very inviting. Is it the best restaurant in the state as has been suggested? We're not sure... we have some excellent candidates right here in Indianapolis, but it's a very serious contender. And combined with the Museum and Inn, it certainly makes a great quick getaway. Let us know what you think.
191 North Main Street
Roanoke, Indiana 46783
February 1 & 8, 2006