The Tenderloin and the Town: Albion, IN

Albion, Indiana is claims to the smallest county seat in the state. Its area of 1.91 square miles means it would only take the fastest runner in the world around 5 1/2 minutes to get from corner to corner. The innkeeper at the B&B that I stayed at said that a writer had come out from Chicago a decade ago and mentioned the city was something out of a Norman Rockwell Painting. So after going on the internet and looking up what a Norman Rockwell painting was, I set out on this trip to see what would inspire this visitor to compare Albion to the image that would “present Americans with a window into a more idyllic world.”

The Tenderloin:

The only tenderloin in town is at the only bar in town. The Albion Ale House, a.k.a. Guesswork Brewing, is located in the old theater on the outskirts of downtown. (by outskirts I mean a block away from the courthouse). This 21 and over establishment is fairly new to the area and features a tap list somewhere of 25 different homemade beers. The Amber lager named after the town, Albion Ale, was my favorite of the bunch. For those that like the chocolate/peanut bitter taste of the Nutty Bars would also have to grab a pint of the Nutty Brown Porter. It tastes just like the candy bar, but not as sweet. But we’re not here to talk about the beers, time to get down to the tenderloin. The “Monster Breaded Tenderloin” is highlighted on their sandwich menu. It features a center cut pork loin that is hand smashed, breaded, and fried. Now, whether it was actually a center cut pork loin or a tenderloin, I couldn’t tell nor did I care. The meat was smooth, white, and tasty. There were no fatty spots that you would get in a simple loin, and it was thin enough where the breading took center stage anyway. The breaking was a nice crispy seasoned outer coating. You could just rip pieces off and eat them plain, but I had some hot sauce on the side to dip them in. I would rate this as large sized, big enough to dwarf the bun, but nothing you would find in a circus. It was a perfect meal to devour after knocking back a few brews. Small Town Norman Rockwell Moment – With all of these freshly brewed craft beer taps, over half of the people sitting at the bar were drinking nationally produced bottled light beers. It was the perfect blend of old-school traditional neighborhood corner bar vs the newer hipster-like craft pubhouses.

The Town:

The old jail museum sits just behind the brand new courthouse office building. Like I’ve stated in other articles before, I usually don’t visit the county museum unless it is in someplace cool, and the old jail and sheriff’s house qualifies as cool. The back half contains the cells. Two stories of concrete and bars lay out just like when the place was functional. You can walk along the back to where the guards kept watch all the way to the interiors where the cells are accessible. Inside all of these rooms contain historical relics of Noble County. One item to look out for is the ransom note of a settler kidnapped by Indians. It is written on a slate rock and is over 250 years old. The sheriff’s residence makes up the other half of the museum. How would you like that, being the sheriff and living in the same building where all those you jailed reside. Different times… Small Town Norman Rockwell Moment – talking to the curator about this year’s Central Noble basketball team, how they went to state, and about the student going next year to a non-Purdue Big Ten school to play next year. Then, walking up to the room in the museum that housed all the trophies, letter jackets, and pictures of all the extinct high schools named after the towns that consolidated into the county schools that are named after… directions.

With the tenderloin at a bar and the hike recommended for adults, I took this trip alone and stayed at a Bed and Breakfast right in downtown Albion so I could enjoy multiple pints of beer and not break any laws going home. The Brick Ark Inn (like everything else) sits a block away from the courthouse in an old house built in the 1880’s. The innkeeper, Tammy, was very nice and welcoming. The rooms were clean and comfortable. They each have their own bathroom and modern amenities. I came back from dinner around 8:30 and went up to the room, but then I realized there was a nice porch outside where I could sit and read while watching the town go by. After a while, Tammy even came out there and I was able to chat with her for a while. I like to talk and meet new people, my wife even jokes that every time I go out somewhere (whether alone, on a work trip, or with her) I seem to “find a friend”. Well, I was glad to find a new friend on this trip and it made my visit even more pleasant. In the morning, breakfast was perfect. There was coffee, fresh scrambled eggs, sausage links, peach granola, and some French toast with locally made maple syrup. Some people are a bit timid about staying at B&B’s. They may feel like they are intruding, that it wouldn’t be modernized or run down, or even smell funny. The Brick Ark Inn was none of those things and one of the most comfortable B&B’s I’ve ever stayed at. It would be perfect for first timers that have never ventured into one. The rooms are cordoned off upstairs in the back of the house. Enough separated from the residence to not be intruding, but still homelike enough to be comfortable and feel like you are staying in a bedroom of a house, rather than a commercial type hotel. Small Town Norman Rockwell Moment – The innkeeper, Tammy, told me how her great grandfather was the sheriff and lived in the sheriff residence/jail building. His daughter married the deputy that worked under him and today their granddaughter runs what is the only inn in Albion.

Staying overnight in a town gives me some downtime to roam the courthouse square and visit some of the other places. After dinner, I stopped off at Cougar Cone and the server was nice enough to make me a chocolate banana milkshake. I walked around the courthouse and found a small gazebo to sit in the shade and enjoy the rest of my ice cream. After my hike the next day, I wandered around to get some lunch. The Albion Pizza Depot made me a ham and cheese pizza sandwich. I really enjoyed the railroad theme of the place. They had a nice coffee shop at the corner of the square too called The Fox Den Coffee shop. But, I already had my coffee fill for the day at the B&B. If it were a hot or rainy day, I would have grabbed a smoothie or something and enjoyed the atmosphere inside. As it was a beautiful day outside, I found a bench in the shade across the street from the courthouse and hung out there until the jail museum opened up. Small Town Norman Rockwell Moment – Pretty much everywhere around the downtown area. You have the courthouse, jail, and commercial buildings all a few centuries old, combined with modern restaurants, shops, and a B&B.

Chain O Lakes State Park sits 4 miles south of town. I signed up for a Wild Edible and Medicinal Plant Walk put on by Carrie from Wild Edible Indiana. Granted, when I go hiking I bring snacks, but it would be pretty cool to start chomping on some random berries along the way without getting myself put in the hospital. It was amazing how much stuff you can just tear off and eat out there. There were leaves that tasted like fruit loops, flowers that tasted like oregano, and stems that tasted like apples. You still have to be careful though, it was like every plant was like, “you can eat these pedals and they taste like lettuce, but there is another one that looks almost just like it that will kill ya.” Some of the plants can be foraged and then cooked up or made into tea. The mint plant was interesting. I grabbed a leaf, tore it a bit, and it smelled like… wait for it… … mint. Very interesting all of that, I’m not about to sign up for the TV show “Naked and Afraid” just quite yet though, but I will take a couple more classes and learn what else is out there. If you are interested in that kind of stuff, then find “Wild Edible Indiana” on Facebook, there is a lot of info on there. Small Town Norman Rockwell Moment – The whole dang park of Chain O Lakes. I didn’t spend much time doing other activities in the park (that’s for another time), but to have a playground only 4 miles away from Albion where you can hike, fish, swim, canoe, and camp with a bunch of kettle lakes just screams of recreation from the past still being enjoyed today.

When that writer called Albion something out of a Norman Rockwell Painting, I think she meant the setting of Albion was almost stuck in the time period of the past when Rockwell did his paintings.But Rockwall never did paintings of the past, he always captured the present.Albion is not stuck in the past, it is a mixture of historical nostalgia combined with modern ideas and places.It is a great example of a small town keeping some of its historical identity while continuing to adapt to the 21 century.In essence Albion is right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, if he was alive today to paint.

There is me. Tammy was grateful enough to take my picture before the hike.

by Michael Tomko

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