Pride Journey: French Lick, Indiana by Joey Amato
Located just 2 hours south of Indianapolis is the small town of French Lick, Indiana. What the town lacks in size, it makes up for in charm and beauty, surrounded by rolling hills and lush terrain. French Lick is the perfect weekend getaway and is also a quick drive from Louisville, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Nashville.
Words can’t even start to describe the ‘Eight Wonder of the World’ as it was once called. I’ve seen photos of the property, but it isn’t until you walk into the dome atrium that you truly understand and appreciate the size and scope of the structure. Depending on when you arrive, a harpist greets you as you casually stroll around the atrium. The hotel features indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center and even a traditional afternoon tea service.
A restored trolley brings guests to French Lick Spring Hotel and French Lick Casino which boasts over 1,000 slot machines and 37 live-dealer table games including blackjack, craps, and roulette.
After trying your luck at the tables, head over to 1875 The Steakhouse in French Lick Springs Hotel for a sure thing. Begin your meal with the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake – the best I’ve ever had – or a serving of their Five Onion soup. You won’t go wrong with a filet mignon, but don’t overlook the Duroc Pork Chop, a double bone-in duroc pork chop served with a charred pepper bourbon glaze. Complete your meal with Cherries Jubilee, prepared tableside for a truly unique experience.
Located in the neighboring town of Paoli, Wilstem Wildlife Park was voted by USA Today as one of the best places to interact with animals. The main attraction at Wilstem is the drive-through safari park, which snakes guests through the expansive park. The animals at Wilstem are not shy. Within seconds of us entering the safari, we were greeted by a friendly group of cows looking for food. All the hustle and bustle quickly attracted the attention of a lively emu duo and a few alpacas looking for their share of feed, which can be purchased at the base camp prior to entering the safari.
After the safari, we parked our car and walked over to the Roos and Crew barn where we had the chance to interact with curious kangaroos, goats, and another resident alpaca. We also had the opportunity to feed two giraffes housed inside the barn, who were more than eager to grab some carrots with their long tongue.
Wilstem is also home to Jeff “the Bear Man” Watson and his grizzly bears Bob and Screech. This trio has been featured on Animal Planet’s “Project Grizzly” as well as Discovery Channel’s “Porter Ridge.” Jeff is one of the foremost grizzly experts in the world and his knowledge and respect for these animals shines during the encounter. Guests leave learning so much about the behavior of the bears and also get to take memorable photos with the bears – from a safe distance of course.
To be honest, I am always very hesitant to visit wineries outside of the Napa/Sonoma region or even Washington State as I never know what to expect. Some wines produced outside of those areas are far too sweet for my palate. However, I did find a few at French Lick Winery that I did like. During our tasting, I really enjoyed the Noiret, Leon Millot and Merlot, all of which I would order with a nice meal.
If your hungry, grab a seat at The Vintage Café (located inside the winery), where everything is hand-made and the pizza dough recipe comes direct from Naples, Italy. We began our meal with a lovely charcuterie board, and I opted for two appetizers as my main meal: Dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) and meatballs. The grape leaves where reminiscent of my favorite Greek restaurant back in New York, but I felt the meatballs tasted a bit manufactured. My guest ordered the Spinach & Artichoke ravioli with homemade alfredo sauce which was wonderful and hearty. They definitely don’t skimp on portion size here.
The European-style spa at West Baden is a wonderful and relaxing place to unwind after a long day touring French Lick. The spa is observing all COVID-19 restrictions in order to make it comfortable and safe for all guests. Schedule a romantic couples massage, West Baden Signature Facial or a body scrub. For those looking for a true spa day, they offer a package which includes an aromatherapy Sprudel bath, facial, massage, manicure, and pedicure. Talk about a day of pampering!
This was the first year of this event, so we were honored to be one of the first participants in the socially-distance culinary feast which featured signature dishes from French Lick Resort’s fabulous restaurants. Our meal began with BLT Deviled Eggs prepared with avocado, applewood smoked bacon, tomatoes and drizzled with a balsamic reduction. This was paired with Baked Lobster Mac & Cheese, a decadent twist on comfort food topped with herbed breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.
The next two courses included Smoked Gouda and Tomato Bisque and The Wedge salad, but the true culinary highlight was the Savory Short Ribs with demi-glace over cheesy grits and asparagus. And of course, there is always room for dessert, so why not try the West Baden Signature Chocolate Dome, a chocolate lovers dream!
Whether you are traveling solo or with someone special, French Lick, Indiana should be on your list of places to visit if you are looking for the perfect weekend getaway.