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Historic Pierceton train depot turned restaurant worth more than a whistle stop

A sleepy town just off U.S. 30 on S.R. 13, Pierceton is known, arguably, as the antique capital of Lake Country. But there is more to Pierceton than antique shops.

Nestled just off the main drag along the railroad tracks is The Old Train Depot. It’s a go-to spot for anyone wanting unusual craft beers, a large variety of artisan martinis, great appetizers, specialty pizzas and a long list of gourmet sandwiches. I’m also told the Bloody Mary is kick-butt!

Built in 1867 by the Pennsylvania Railroad, the original depot served as a warehouse, as well as a train stop for passengers. In 2006, the depot was purchased by managing partner Joe Frush, who was born in Pierceton but grew up in Warsaw, and other family members.

They had a vision for the building and immediately set out to fulfill it, doing the renovation themselves.

The goal was to retain as much of the original interior as possible, and during the course of four years, they were able to complete their quest and open July 1, 2010.

They retained the high, open ceiling look of the original depot, including all the original beams and support infrastructure, and parked an original railroad passenger car adjacent to the depot.

To create the restaurant and bar area, they added a loft for the bar with seating for 30, an outdoor deck that can seat eight to 12, and a main floor family room with seating for about 20.

The restaurant and bar are on the east end of the building. The remainder houses an event center with seating for up to 200 people. This year, the event center is booked for more than 50 events, including many during the week. Weddings, receptions, business meetings, club meetings, musical events, social gatherings and charity events are some of the many occasions hosted there.

With such a small kitchen, Joe allows people hosting events there to bring their own food, or he uses Classic Catering Foods in Pierceton. 

Throughout the depot are pieces of railroad memorabilia and local historical items that take you back to a different time. In cooler weather, the most popular seat in the house is near the fireplace — a cozy corner for a cocktail or dinner.

For craft beers, Joe says the bar has two standard drafts and four others that rotate every two weeks.

While talking to Joe at the beautiful oak bar with a train roaring by (I asked him how he planned that), I quaffed one of the standards: a wonderful pale ale from Kona Brewery in Hawaii, called Big Wave. It was smooth with minimal hop override, raspberry notes and went down easily.

After Joe lugged a new keg up two flights of stairs, I had to try Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues in Longmont, Colo. Tasting from a sample glass, this beer was equal to Big Wave, with notes of orange on the finish. How do they do that?

The small kitchen adjacent the bar area serves up some dynamite dishes fit to suit any palate. First up were the pretzel bread sticks with nacho cheese dip, followed by the nacho deluxe (enough for four).

Then came the Italian sub, warmed and loaded with Italian ham, salami, pepperoni, provolone cheese, lettuce, onion, tomato and house-made Italian dressing – all served on rustic Italian bread.

Also on the menu are daily soup specials (black bean was the soup of the day when I visited) and specialty salads. Other sandwiches include the Caboose burger, French dip, classic Reuben, ham and cheese, chicken club and the Philly

According to Joe, the restaurant’s signature dish is the beef enchilada – a combination of fresh ground chuck covered with a cream-based enchilada sauce and served with tri-color chips and salsa.

From previous visits, I would also recommend the grilled salmon fillet. It is mouthwatering.

The menu also offers a selection of pasta dishes and some fine desserts, like cheesecake and various chocolate delights.

After celebrating its fifth anniversary this summer on July 1, The Old Train Depot will also be an integral part of Pierceton’s Heirloom Tomato Festival in August. It is one of the restaurant’s busiest weeks, Joe told me.

Restaurant hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Check it out after a day of antiquing. You will find The Old Train Depot well worth the short drive in Lake Country.

For more dispatches from the dining scene in Kosciusko County from Loren Shaum, sign up for the Lake Country Escapades email newsletter.

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