If you are visiting, new to town, or don’t come to the downtown Square often, here are personal recommendations from someone who loves good food. —Malcolm Abrams
The Uptown Cafe
I’ve eaten at The Uptown Cafe a thousand times and never had a bad meal or bad service. At breakfast and weekend brunch, I especially love the omelets and the thin, slightly crisp-around-the-perimeter cornmeal pancakes. At lunch and dinner, my current favorite is the salmon mousse appetizer served with grilled baguette slices. If I had to eat in just one restaurant for the rest of my life, The Uptown would be it.
The proprietors make all kinds of fancy pizzas like Stinky Pete, H Bomb, and Pork and Pine, in their huge wood-burning oven that got schlepped here all the way from Italy. Gourmet pizza lovers rave about these slightly singed, puffy-crusted pies loaded with fresh ingredients. Me? I swoon over their simple pepperoni pie with mushrooms or green pepper. Good salads, too—and big.
One of Bloomington’s finest eateries, it’s hard to go wrong with anything on its expansive menu. I’m a big fan of the Thai Noodle Salad with grilled salmon or chicken, and the Salmon Oscar (grilled salmon, lump crab, garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus, and hollandaise). My wife’s favorite dish is the Hawaiian Ribeye, a marinated steak topped with fire-roasted pineapple. For starters, I heartily recommend the crab cakes, smoked salmon and trout plate, fish tacos, and filet sliders.
Darn Good Soup
This aptly named restaurant on the west side of the Square makes 70 different soups and offers eight to 10 daily, always including vegetarian and vegan options. Biggest sellers are chili, lentil spinach, and chicken tortilla. My favorite is seafood gumbo, followed by beef paprikash, lamb and barley stew, and chicken pot pie. Yum!
If you like biscuits, this place is biscuit heaven. FARM buttermilk biscuits are made from the chef/owner’s family recipe. Slather on butter and the robust house-made jams, then add a mug of hot coffee and maybe a bowl of fresh fruit for a sweet breakfast. A basket of FARM french fries, soaked in garlic and other herbs, is a signature dish.
Okay, it’s an old-time bar, so you might expect boring bar fare—burgers and deep-fried everything. Au contraire, the food is surprisingly good here. I am especially fond of the blackened salmon and the steak sandwich on a hoagie with fried onions. Regular sides include Brussels sprouts and sautéed mixed greens. There’s a creative selection of salads, too. What kind of bar is this, anyway? (Oh, and the burger, seared around the edges, is my favorite in town.)
This Bloomington stalwart serves moderately priced Greek fare, including a variety of over-stuffed, mouthwatering gyros. Lately, I’m having a love affair with the taco trio plate (pulled pork, falafel, fish), a non-Greek addition to the menu. My wife, Jenny, (and many others) thrill to the flaming saganaki—traditional fontinella cheese on pita served afire at your table.
Who knew Afghan food could be so delicious? My favorite is the mushroom appetizer drenched in garlic and other spices. I love sopping up the sauce with the warm, crisp, chewy Afghan bread. The real star at Samira’s is the lunch buffet, featuring meatballs, roast chicken, a variety of vegetable dishes, two salads, bread, and honey-soaked baklava—sweet and sticky—for dessert.
Janko’s Little Zagreb
If you’re a meat eater and you’ve never been to Janko’s, prepare to be amazed. Not only are the steaks as big as bibles, they’re tender, juicy, aromatic, and have a distinct deliciousness you won’t find anywhere else. The lamb chops are the best I’ve ever eaten, the Meatballs Bucharest are scrumptious and hot as Hades, and the spare ribs (wrapped in foil and dripping in sauce) are different but delectable. Come hungry.
Bloomington Sandwich Co.
Most of the lunchtime regulars have a favorite sandwich—combinations of meats, cheeses, and vegetables, like the ever-popular Reuben (technically, sauerkraut is a vegetable), but I go for straight corned beef on rye with plenty of yellow mustard. They have good all-beef hot dogs, too, as well as pretty decent chili. For dessert: Italian ices.
Bloomington’s only vegetarian/vegan restaurant, I go there rarely, but when I do, I enjoy the “chicken” sandwich on Kaiser or in a wrap. The french fries and sweet potato fries are first-rate—crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. I order them with gravy. It’s a Canadian thing—poutine sans the cheese curds.
Hamburgers, nachos, mozzarella sticks, tenderloin sandwiches, chicken tenders—everything you would expect to find at a Hoosier sports bar with one notable addition: Roasted Shrimp & Corn Bisque. There were times I had to have it at least once a week.