Interview with Guillermo Torres of Pikk’s Tavern

The restaurant industry is a very competitive market that sees many businesses fail within the first few years of their existence. To see a restaurant celebrate their ten year anniversary speaks volumes for the time and effort that is necessary to stand out in an industry that often witnesses failure. “It’s tough, because there are so many options in downtown, but we all work hard together to keep this place open by offering great service to the public,” says manager Guillermo Torres.

Open since June of 2007, Pikk’s Tavern has become a staple of the ever-changing landscape of downtown Valparaiso. Torres, longtime employee and manager of Pikk’s, discussed the changes he has seen in his time with the restaurant. “It is a lot different than it was when I began here nine years ago. There are more businesses now and having Central Park Plaza across the street from us is very nice.”

Along with the success that Pikk’s has had in terms of their longevity, Torres has also had his share of tremendous success as an employee of the restaurant. “I started off bussing tables for my first few years and then I started running food for about a year and a half. After that, I was expediting and running food at the same time. I then I went from assistant manager to manager.” A true example of reaping the benefits of putting in hard work.

A restaurant known for their steaks, Pikk’s is also a place where you can always find weekly specials known as Mexican Wednesday Night and Thursday Italian Night. They also have a new specialty burger every month. One such example is a burger called the Greektown. “The Greektown comes with beef, lamb, tzatziki sauce on pita bread,” says Torres. With a full bar where you can get many specialty drinks made to order, Pikk’s also has a wide variety of bottled and tap beers. The first Thursday of every month at 5:00pm, Pikk’s hosts an event called Eat Up Wine Down. “We always offer mini burgers with American or bleu cheese with fries for $6, along with $6 drinks. Every month, we offer other different items that pairs with the different wines.”

Pikk’s offers a large outdoor patio on the side of the restaurant for those warm Indiana months. Along with the outdoor patio, they also offer a large downstairs area that can play host to various events. “We can fit up to 100 people in our lower level, which is good for hosting rehearsal dinners, graduations and many other kinds of parties.”

With the holidays fast approaching, many restaurants offer gift cards. Pikk’s also offers gift cards, which comes with an extra incentive. Torres says, “If you spent $100 on a gift card, we will give you a $25 certificate.” A great gift idea to treat your loved ones to some great food!

Pikk’s Tavern is located 62 W. Lincolnway, just west of the downtown Valparaiso square. For more information, including the monthly burger option, you can visit their website at www.pikkstavern.davinci-group.com. You can also find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Pikks-Tavern-90392714164/. If you are interested in table reservations or renting the downstairs for an event, you can call them at 219-476-7455.

Interview with Keith Gurley of Fork & Cork

It is commonly accepted that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but how often does your breakfast consist of Cajun shrimp and crawfish? Along with Andouille sausage, ham, rice and scrambled eggs; this unique Southern-style dish is appropriately named the Forrest Gumbo.

“Breakfast here is a lot of fun,” says Keith Gurley, co-owner of the Southern-inspired restaurant Fork and Cork. “I try to go with more of a Southern flare with breakfast. You can go other places and get your typical eggs and bacon. You can get those here as well, but I do like to put a twist on some things.”

Gurley began his restaurant endeavor in 2005 when he purchased French-themed Bon Femme from the original owner. Last October, he decided to move the restaurant in a different direction. “I wanted to change it to more of my background of food, since I am a Southern boy.” Going in a different direction from the French cuisine served at Bon Femme, Gurley began the process of finding a new name. “I was having some drinks with some friends and we were mulling over some names. There were a lot of names shot out there, but I remember Fork and Cork being one of the names that stuck.”

Although most of the dishes you find at Fork and Cork are inspired from recipes while growing up in the south, some of Gurley’s own creations have actually been created in his dreams. “I’ll go to sleep at night and wake up at 3 in the morning. I’ll have this crazy recipe in my head and I’ll make it the next day just to see if it works.” One such dream-inspired dish is a breakfast lasagna that was recently added to the Fork and Cork menu. “The bottom layer is hash browns, then you take cheddar cheese, and then it gets a mixture of roasted red peppers spinach, bacon sautéed all together. Then it gets more cheddar, sliced fresh tomato and fresh mozzarella, then we pour scrambled eggs on top of that. After it’s done baking and sliced into a lasagna piece, it gets sausage gravy over the top of it.”

With the holidays right around the corner, Valparaiso will be hosting events such as Holly Days and Winter Dazzle. Gurley says that Fork and Cork also participates in these various events. “For Halloween, we do something outside for the kids. For Winter Dazzle, I will go out front and I will give away turkey chili. I also do the same thing for Holly Days. We also play host to private events as well.”

Along with breakfast, Fork and Cork is also open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday. As the word “Cork” in the name suggests, they have a great number of different wines and spirits from which to choose. They are located at 66 W. Lincolnway, directly across the street from Central Park Plaza in downtown Valparaiso. For more information, including their full menu, you may visit their website at http://forkandcorkvalpo.com/cafe/

You can also like their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/ForkCorkValpo/

Interview with Eddie Luick of Blue Point

Traditionally, Indiana is not a state known for seafood. However, there is a restaurant in downtown Valparaiso that is doing its best to bridge the gap between our landlocked state and the many seafood delicacies the ocean has to offer.

Located on the north side of the downtown Valparaiso square is Blue Point, a restaurant known for its fresh seafood. Blue Point opened in May of 2016 in the site of the former Tommy B’s. Eddie Luick, owner and executive chef, discussed what makes Blue Point a unique member of the Downtown Valpo Restaurant Group.

“When I opened, I wanted to do what no one else was doing and that was being unique. There was nowhere, really, to find good seafood, fresh seafood without having to travel to Chicago. I opened this up featuring fresh seafood that comes in six days a week.”

Luick, who has spent the past 26 years working in the restaurant industry throughout Northwest Indiana, has made it his mission to serve fresh seafood from all parts of the world.

Eddie explained, “I have a fish broker out of Chicago that I deal direct with daily. I can get a lead on what is on the market and what is coming in tomorrow. All the fish flown in fresh from Greece, from Hawaii, all over the United States. When it comes off of the plane, it hits the truck and comes directly to me. Our fresh oysters are brought in and shucked daily and our sushi is hand-rolled fresh to order.”

If you are looking for a particular food and drink pairing, Blue Point runs specials that can be found on their website.

“Monday through Thursday there’s always a drink special and food special that pair together from the time we open until the time we close. Some nights I do oysters and martinis; sometimes I do Peony shrimp buckets and Moscow Mules.” During the Popcorn Festival, Blue Point runs different menus throughout the weekend. “I focus on a quicker lunch menu and then we go into a full dinner menu after 5 o’clock, when the streets re-open.”

The Downtown Valpo Restaurant Group is a group of 9 different restaurants run by local restaurant owners, not large corporations. There have recently been several chain restaurants that have either closed their doors, or have announced the closure of some locations throughout the country.

“I think people are realizing that they can get they can get a bigger bang for their buck by coming to a small, individually-owned place that is not paying big marketing and franchising fees like myself, or our other restaurants that are here trying to make an honest buck. We can all price competitively. I’m not trying to get rich, I’m just trying to successfully make enough to live off of and keep my staff of 21 people employed.”

Blue Point is located at 13 E. Lincolnway in downtown Valparaiso. You may find them online at www.bluepoint-seafood.com and their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BluePointSeafood.

Interview with Chris Pavlou of Radius

Chris Pavlou was born into the food business… literally. He reflected on the story that his parents, owners of Ted’s Imported Foods, told him of the day that he was born. “When I was born, my mom was in labor at the store and my dad said to her, “Let me do the paperwork first!”. So I was literally born in the business.”

Although he grew up helping his parents at their Merrillville location, Pavlou took a different direction in life before opening his first restaurant. When he was 18, he worked as a runner at the Chicago Board of Trade. He continued working in brokering at a few different firms before leaving the industry completely in 2000. “When the market crashed, I just grabbed all my money and opened up my own restaurant. Ever since then, I’ve had 13 restaurants. Now I only have 4.” As a former stock broker, he admits that working in the restaurant business allows him the ability to have more control over situations that he otherwise could not in brokering. “I could not control other peoples’ money and it bothered me. When people lost, I felt it. In the food business, I can control what I make and how I treat the people.” This includes the control that he has over the food that is made in his restaurants. “If it doesn’t look good, I’m not sending it out.”

This philosophy has been brought to downtown Valparaiso with his newest venture called Radius. Located on the north end of the downtown Valparaiso square, Radius opened its doors in September of 2016. The name Radius was actually conceived by his wife and daughter. “The whole meaning behind Radius is that it is the center of Valpo as well as the dining district.” He says that the downtown location has afforded him the ability to expand his horizons. “With this location here, I was able to take something simple that I had in all of my other restaurants and really make an explosion of it.”

That explosion has manifested into a restaurant known for burgers with unique twists. One unique burger, in particular, is called the Redenbacher. It is topped with homemade mac and cheese, onion rings, thick-cut bacon on a garlic bun. “Where else can you find that?” says Pavlou. The top-selling dish at Radius is the Chicago Style Italian Beef, a popular dish that Pavlou also serves at his other restaurants. Pavlou believes in serving only the freshest ingredients such as USDA prime beef, the freshest vegetables and buns. “I believe in quality. We’re digesting this food into our bodies, so I want to give my guests the best I possibly can.”

Along with these unique dishes, Radius hosts live entertainment every Friday night. They also have beer tasting nights, theme nights and outdoor seating. “I want people to come here and I want them to leave full, happy and satisfied. Sit, have a couple of cocktails if you want, eat some great food, enjoy the music, enjoy the ambiance, enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy your friends. That’s where I get the enjoyment. The people of Valpo have welcomed me.”

Radius is located at 15 E Lincolnway in beautiful downtown Valparaiso. For more information, including a full menu and upcoming events, you may visit their Facebook page at: facebook.com/Radiusvalpo

Downtown Experience

In the last ten years, Valparaiso has transformed itself from a city not only known for its world-renowned university, but to a city with a beautiful and vibrant downtown with so many locally-owned restaurants from which to choose, all within the heart of the downtown area. The Downtown Valpo Restaurant Group consists of 9 restaurants (with a 10th opening soon), all of which are located within walking distance of one another. From Mexican to Cajun, Italian to even Spanish dishes, downtown Valparaiso is sure to have an exquisite meal that satisfies any kind of craving.

dining downtown

Anchored by Central Park Plaza, downtown Valparaiso has become a destination for a vast array of incredible dining and drink options. Often times, diners can enjoy the sounds of a concert or musical festival at the pavilion and a beautiful summer evening, which often attracts even more people to the downtown area than usual. Visitors will enjoy not only the amount of outdoor seating available, but the aesthetics that each of our restaurants offers for outdoor dining. From overhead string lights to beautifully-crafted decking, these simple decorating options make the overall experience that much more inviting. As lively as the city is on Friday and Saturday nights, there usually are no wait times at any of our restaurants. With ample parking all over downtown, finding a parking spot close to your destination makes the downtown area easily accessible.

Many of our restaurant guests say that the reasons they dine downtown is because of the delicious food, the overall atmosphere and having a convenient location to meet friends and have drinks. Many people are just very happy to be out on a beautiful night, which is something we very much value in Indiana during the summer months. When dining outdoors, certain perks are allowed that otherwise would not be permitted indoors. For example, some of our restaurants allow pets to sit with their owners in the outdoor seating area. Valparaiso truly is a small town with a big town feel.

Many of our restaurant owners express the same reasons for choosing downtown Valparaiso for their restaurant as their customers. From chefs who have been all over the world, chefs who have brought their love of making food from their native land, to chefs who own multiple restaurants throughout Northwest Indiana, their love of making food for guests is expressed in the attention to detail and choices in ingredients. This love is reciprocated by the many guests you will find frequenting our restaurants on any given night of the week.

Living in Northwest Indiana, we are fortunate to live close to a city like Chicago and all the different dining options that it has to offer. However, it is nice to know that a local city like Valparaiso can offer the experience of so many different dining options, without the hassle of driving to Illinois and the expensive parking that accompanies it. The summer has just begun, therefore there is still plenty of time for everyone to experience the vibrant city Valparaiso has become. Bring your friends and have a great time!