In 1928 on a quiet street at the northernmost outskirts of Indianapolis a restaurant named the Country Cottage started serving family-style chicken dinner. The city has grown around it and the name was changed to honor the hollyhock bushes on the lawn, but the specialty of the house still is fried chicken dinner.
The time to fully experience the bedrock character of this place is Sunday, after church. Pastels on the ladies echo the flowery murals in the pastel dining room, which is partitioned with trellises and wrought iron the color of Easter eggs. Tables are draped with linen, and some of the really big ones have lazy Susans in the center so members of big families can spin the wheel and grab what they want.
The meal people come to eat is a ritualized banquet that begins with pleasant enough but unmemorable pickled beets and cottage cheese and salad with a great house-made sweet and sour vinaigrette then upshifts to unforgettably good chicken. Fish, shrimp, and steak are options, but this chicken is skillet-fried and wonderful, served with pan gravy. To go with it there are bowls of mashed potatoes, green beans, and corn niblets, as well as hot breads with apple butter. All these trustworthy selections are replenished for as long as anyone at the table wants to keep eating them, but it’s the chicken that makes you want to eat ’til you bust.
Dessert is ingenuous and fun: Make your own sundae. Sauces of butterscotch, creme de menthe, and chocolate are provided to dollop as desired on your ice cream. The default ice cream flavor is vanilla, but true Hoosiers opt for the state favorite, peppermint.