If Swiss Days in Berne this weekend isn’t reason enough to check out the charming Swiss town, I have another for you.
A nondescript cozy little restaurant, The White Cottage doesn’t look like much with just nine tables crammed into its space at Main and Hendricks streets. But there are some great things coming from the kitchen.
Owners Carson and Kerri George have made the place just as much about the food as the ice cream, which has been a staple for years.
The menu features burgers, loaded potatoes, sandwiches on homemade bread, five varieties of pork tenderloin and a seemingly endless list of ice cream concoctions. There is also an ever-changing specials board.
Diners order as soon as they walk in the side door before finding a table, and there was a short wait with little room to wait in both times I visited. I also felt for the couple, who were slaving away in the tiny kitchen both times, because it was dreadfully hot in the eatery. There are also no restrooms, so keep that in mind – especially if you have kids – or else you could be jumping into your car mid-meal to find one, not an easy task on the weekends when Main Street is more or less shut down.
But, if you can stand the heat, don’t mind waiting a bit and are sure to go before you go, you will be happy and likely eager to go back.
I sampled two tenderloins – a traditional schnitzel style, which is breaded and fried like any good Indiana tenderloin, and a grilled done Swiss style (kind of had to in Berne) that was topped with grilled onions and Swiss cheese. The fried loin was pretty big – about 8 inches in diameter and a third of an inch thick – and was moist and meaty. Kerri said all of their meat comes from the Berne Locker, so it is always fresh. The crisp, perfectly seasoned breading was top-notch, and I would easily rank it among the best fried loins I have tried. I also loved the thin, hand-cut fries on the side.
The grilled tenderloin was not as impressive as the fried, but its toppings made up for it. The loin was about the same size, but the meat did not maintain its moisture as well when grilled. The onions, however, sweated off plenty of moisture to sort of form a gravy that dripped all over The White Cottage’s top-notch kaiser roll. The rich onion flavor combined wonderfully with the sharp Swiss cheese.
I’ll ask for grilled onions on my mushroom and Swiss burger next time because those onion drippings would have been great combined with the portobello strips on the meaty, nicely seared quarter-pound of ground chuck. The burger was OK without them, but the onions would have made it fantastic.
The portobello mushrooms I had as an appetizer were perfectly fried. These thin, wide strips were dusted with a slightly orange-seasoned breading that had a little zip to it, and they were much meatier and more flavorful than fried button mushrooms. The flavor was so good I didn’t even use the ranch dip that came with them.
Every starter I had impressed. The chicken-potato-bacon soup was thick and creamy like chicken and dumplings, only this had potato instead of dumplings and bits of bacon to add just the right saltiness. The cheeseburger soup needed a little salt added to its cheesy yellow base, but that was it as the ground beef was plentiful.
Boneless wings were on special one night and, even though I had never found a good boneless wing anywhere, I decided to give them a try. I now know where to find a good boneless wing. These handmade tenders were coated in a heavy breading and looked like many of the inferior, frozen versions that have failed to wow me before, but they were super moist and tender with the right amount of fat to make them taste just like good bone-in wings. I split my order, half Buffalo and half barbecued, and found both sauces to be pretty standard, but satisfying.
Fantastic was the only way to describe the honey pecan chicken. Listed as a signature meal, the sizable chicken tenders in this dish were lightly dredged and were light, crisp and browned nicely in the fryer. The honey sauce was not at all overpowering and added just a bit of sweetness. It worked well with the chicken, but became magical when it enrobed the big chunks of salty, nutty pecan.
Saltiness and nuttiness were a big part of the best ice cream creation I had at The White Cottage. The No. 36 Caramel Crunch sundae had creamy vanilla ice cream packed into a 12-ounce plastic cup with crunchy cashews, salty pretzel sticks, crumbled Heath candy bars and thick caramel nicely layered throughout it. It was sinfully decadent. I also loved the fruity No. 23 Island Delight, which had the same cashews, but also included pineapple, marshmallow and shredded coconut. I subbed strawberries for the marshmallow on mine.
If you are not in the mood for ice cream, try one of the mini pies or take one home with you. The crust on these handmade beauties was super flaky and may have actually been the best part of the apple, which sort of reminded me of my mother-in-law’s. It was stuffed with thinly sliced tart apples coated in just the right blend of cinnamon and sugar for a filling that wasn’t overly sweet and sludgy. The coconut was also great. It was a straight coconut pie – not coconut cream – with toasty, tasty shreds in rich, sweet custard that tasted a lot like a sugar cream pie.
There were few problems at all with the service at The White Cottage. Even though you order at the counter, the food is brought to the table and the employees checked back regularly to make sure everything was OK. They also were a bright cheery bunch who made me feel welcome.
Restaurant: The White Cottage
Address: 178 W. Main St., Berne
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Handicapped accessible: Not really; quarters too tight
Smoking status: Non-smoking
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Portobello mushrooms ($3.50), soup ($1.59 cup, $2.25 bowl), tenderloin ($4.99 schnitzel, $5.49 Swiss), honey-pecan chicken ($4.99 two-piece, $5.99 three), mushroom and Swiss burger ($5.39), sundaes ($2.79 small, $3.99 large), mini pies ($1.99)
Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 0 (1 max.), service: * (1 max.)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).