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Behind B-Town's best bites

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Chaz Mottinger | Inside

Inside found out the secrets behind Bloomington's tastiest foods.

Published on Apr. 9, 2012 | Print | Share | Recommend ()

We might think Bloomington’s food and drink options are just like any other college town’s. But one day a craving will come, and we will find ourselves either not in Bloomington or too lazy to leave the house. We will be staring into our refrigerators and cabinets, scratching our heads, wondering how exactly we can satisfy the insatiable craving for a Bloomington favorite. Inside talked to the owners and managers of some of Bloomington’s favorite local establishments to uncover the secrets of what goes into their most popular foods and drinks. Some might not be exactly easy to mimic at home, but this guide will get you close.

Sink the Biz fries
Nick’s English Hut
423 E. Kirkwood Ave.

What you'll get:
A bucket of french fries seasoned with Nick’s own in-house spice. Served with mild cheese and garlic mayonnaise for dipping.

The secret:
Nick’s in-house spice is a special combination of paprika, cayenne pepper, onion powder, garlic, kosher salt, thyme, and oregano. “We have a guy in Nashville, (Ind.,) who comes up with our spices according to our recipes,” kitchen manager Cory Bowers says.

Sink the Biz fries are a relatively new addition to what Bowers says is a recent focus on food at Nick’s.

“Our owner Gregg ‘Rags’ Rago, who was the kitchen manager at the time, came up with the spice,” Bowers says. “He had been working on his own spice recipe, which we had been using on our chicken. He wanted another way to use it, to highlight it in a different way, so we put the spice on our fresh fries with a little of our mild cheese.”

Bowers says on a busy night, Nick’s probably sells about 200 orders of their famous fries.

Cresent Donuts
231 S. Adams St.

What you’ll get:
Cresent Donut, located west of the downtown area, might in itself be a secret to many. Open 24 hours, the shop offers a variety of donut flavors and other pastries that feature a unique glaze developed by the shop’s owner, Peter Sharpe.

The secret:
Patience, a proofer box, and a flavorful glaze. Sharpe’s donuts go through a complicated process, starting with a basic wheat flour mixed with yeast and water. He lets the dough rise, then smacks it down, and then lets it rise all over again. “You have to give it the proper time to sit,” he says. “What that does is it gives you the flavor. And we are all about flavor here.”

Sharpe says another key step is putting the shaped donut molds into a closed proofer box before frying.

“It lets the donut create a humidity inside the box, and it makes it tender and nice,” he says.

After frying, Sharpe glazes the donuts with his own unique combination of flavorings, including vanilla, maple flavoring, and much more.

For 25 years, Sharpe has been baking as many as 350 dozen donuts a day on the busy weekends at his Cresent Donut shop. The shop itself has been in business for 50 years.

The Hairy Bear
Bear’s Place
1316 E. Third St.

What you’ll get:
Six shots of liquor mixed with fruit juices and topped off with Sprite. According to the menu: “Makes you want to climb tall buildings.”

The secret:
Don’t even ask. General manager Phil Resler says anyone who pours a Hairy Bear has to sign a confidentiality oath to never share the recipe. “It is a trademarked drink,” Resler says. “But the key is that it is topped off with Sprite.”

To preserve the secrecy of the recipe, Resler says bartenders make a stock of the Hairy Bear mixture in the morning before the restaurant opens each day. The recipe has changed through the years, with previous incarnations containing even more shots of higher proofed liquors.

“People were getting way too drunk, so we had to slow it down a little bit,” Resler says. He adds that bartenders often go through about 60 gallons of the Hairy Bear mixture on a busy night.

'Sweet Q' Wing Sauce
Buffa Louie’s
114 S. Indiana Ave.

What you’ll get:
Buffa Louie’s “Sweet Q” barbecue sauce is one of the many specialty sauces offered at this Bloomington wings institution. “It’s almost like a candy on a sauce,” owner Jaimie Schwartzman says.

The secret:
It turns out Schwartzman is not so far from the truth: “It actually is made almost like a candy,” she says. “It’s cooked slowly up to a specific temperature, then it’s cooled rapidly.” Schwartzman says the key to the sweetness is a whole lot of sugar.

Schwartzman says the restaurant often goes through gallons of each sauce on any given week.

Pizza X
1791 E. Tenth St.

What you’ll get:
Soft breadsticks covered in a salty seasoning. They come with an option of pizza, cheese, ranch, or garlic sauce — a late night favorite.

The secret:
Locally made dough that’s given 48 hours to proof to perfection. “Just before we push a tray of ’stix into the oven, we lightly mist them and shake our special house-made seasoning on them,” says Sara Sheikh, director of marketing for One World Enterprises.

Pizza X has been around for almost 30 years. It sells more than 50,000 breadsticks in a typical week.

Sugar Cookie Dough
Baked! of Bloomington
313 E. Third St.

What you’ll get:
You can add endless combinations of mix-ins, like Oreos and butterscotch chips, to an order of Baked! cookies. While these creative combos might seem like they make the cookie, the secret is actually in the dough.

The secret:
Only the most senior staff members are allowed to know the dough’s recipe. “Every batch of Baked! cookie dough is made from high quality, natural ingredients in small batches,” says owner Jeremy Ness. “This ensures ... rich, gooey cookies every time.”

Baked! sells about 10,000 cookies a week.

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