Caterers displaced by I-69 find new Hilltop home

6/20/2013 7:45 AM
By Associated Press

SPENCER, Ind. (AP) — Like many, Dennis and Chris Grubb knew Interstate 69 might come down the pike someday, but they never took the possibility too seriously.

Then two years ago, it became clear: The catering and outdoor events business they leased and ran on 22 acres off Rockport Road would be taken for the construction of the long-planned and controversial highway.

Pic-A-Chic Farms, a Monroe County institution for 50 years, would be no more.

"We packed up and left there June 18 of 2012," Chris Grubb told The Herald-Times ( ) Wednesday. Her husband had worked at Pic-A-Chic for 22 years, and the couple has leased the land from the property owners since 2004. "Dennis said they had been talking about the highway since he was first there, but nobody thought it was going to happen. And now, we're here."

"Here" is a scenic spot atop an Owen County hill on U.S. 231 about three miles north of Spencer, where the Grubbs have taken over another dining tradition, the Hilltop Family Restaurant.

The home-cooking restaurant, where food is served family style, passed in bowls and on platters around old shellac-shiny wooden tables, has been through five owners since Violet Mercer Anderson started it as the Skyland Lodge in 1948. A faded photograph on the wall shows waitresses in the early days wearing floor-length white dresses with frilly aprons.

Since the Grubbs did not own the Pic-A-Chic property, they found themselves with a flourishing catering business and no place to work from. They searched for a new location, but nothing seemed right.

"If you lose your business, it is hard to start over. Pic-A-Chic was a landmark," Chris Grubb said. "We looked for a new place for over a year and a half and we were about to give up. We could never find a place like Pic-A-Chic."

Then one day last fall, they turned off U.S. 231 and headed up the hill to the Hilltop for dinner. "We had driven past it a hundred times and always said we should stop, but we were always in a hurry."

They had discussed opening a family-style restaurant, and there they sat. "I love this place," Chris Grubb told her husband. A few months later, they learned the Hilltop was on the market.

"We contacted the people and started talking to them about it, and here we are," she said. "On May 23, we bought the restaurant. It's a landmark place too, and it has always had a husband-and-wife team running it, so it's perfect for us. There's already a client base. People come from everywhere."

Their new location has a spectacular view, a long uphill driveway with a hairpin turn and potential for outdoor weddings, parties, receptions and other events. Open three weeks, the Grubbs have added outdoor patio seating, and Chris Grubb intends to "flower up" the gardens with color.

The menu will stay much the same, with additions such as barbecue. Over time, simple food made from scratch at the Hilltop gave way to convenience foods such as dehydrated potatoes, packaged gravy and store-bought cobbler. Dennis Grubb, who started out in the kitchen of the now-closed Ladyman's restaurant in downtown Bloomington 40 years ago, knows the value of a batch of homemade yeast rolls that starts with 15 pounds of flour. And the importance of his wife's fresh blackberry and peach cobblers.

It makes economic sense to use whole ingredients, Dennis Grubb figures, even though it's time consuming. One of his yeast rolls — there were 12 dozen rising on the kitchen counter Wednesday afternoon — costs 6 cents to make. From a commercial bakery, triple that, he said. Potatoes are cheap, and he peels hundreds of pounds for mashing every week. He serves as butcher, individually cutting 1-pound rib-eye steaks.

"This is sort of the anti-fast-food restaurant," Chris Grubb said in the high-ceilinged dining room, where they have installed six chandeliers for a brighter look.

Customers appreciate the out-of-the way restaurant. Last weekend, they served more than 500 diners. People line up at 11:30 on weekends for fried chicken, served starting at noon.

They are keeping many features the same, including the setup course, part of the Hilltop tradition: Served to everyone as an appetizer is a plate with carrot and celery sticks, sliced pickled beets, and ranch dressing for dipping. Then comes a lettuce salad with sweet vinaigrette dressing, one of many special recipes that came with the restaurant.

The Grubbs still are settling in. "This is the closest thing to Pic-A-Chic that we could have found," Chris Grub said. "We had no idea what was up that hill."


Information from: The Herald Times,

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