Sprinkled throughout Northwest Indiana are places like this. In Merrillville alone there are three within a 2-mile radius of U.S. 30 and Broadway. Generally owned by first- or second-generation broken English or heavily accented Greeks, Serbians, or Italians, these places offer a refreshing reminder of the diversity of our culture and the melting pot foundation upon which it rests. Until recently, the Indianapolis area boasted none that I am aware of, so I was tickled pink to stumble across A Taste of Europe one evening after taking my son, Anthony, to his Zionsville karate practice. Let me proudly restate that as my 9-year-old black belt candidate son, Anthony.
This place isn’t near a courthouse, but its location, tucked away about a block or two west of 96th Street on Michigan Road on the northwest side of Indianapolis, is an easy digression from the well-traveled I-465. Nor is it really a restaurant, although by the end of summer 2011 they plan to evolve into a fully functioning deli serving made to order sandwiches. Today, it is an imported food or grocery store. Not at all large in terms of square footage, the place is efficiently packed with deli and grocery items, some of which you are familiar with and most of which you aren’t.
The sign in front of the store advertises free samples. That is an understatement. The Serbian owners, who travel daily from Crown Point while their son manages their sister store on the square there, generously provide you with enough samples of meats, sausages, cheeses, peppers, and breads that put the nearby big box Costco to shame and leave you feeling satisfied, if not even full. They serve European pastries and candies, cookies, and yes, baklava.
If you are a feta cheese fan, let me give you a hot tip. There is nothing like bulk Bulgarian feta cheese in terms of richness and sharpness of flavor. This is where the store loses some marks as its feta selections are pre-packaged and fail to measure up to the bulk variety. The owners plan an expanded deli case so perhaps they will add to their cheese variety by including bulk feta cheeses.
There is a dying tradition in ’Da Region. While growing up you used to be able to go to about any bar or independent restaurant and order one pound of barbeque lamb served with bread, feta, green onions, and olives. The lamb was prepared off site by the Serbians, roasting about 150 whole lambs every week. There are still a few places that do this if you know where to go. At a Taste of Europe you can custom order BBQ lamb making that option alone worthy of your support.
So if you want to visit a truly niche store, stop by a Taste of Europe. If you are hosting a party, they will prepare a party tray that your guests will simply rave about and then ask you what it was they just ate. Even Jenny’s Wonder bread palette will like this place, so I’ll drag her there to check it out sometime. I’m sure you will enjoy it too. A Taste of Europe, 4320 West 96th Street, Indianapolis, IN 46268. (317-334-8797).•
Fred Vaiana and Jennifer M. Lukemeyer practice at Voyles Zahn Paul Hogan & Merriman in Indianapolis, focusing in criminal defense. Vaiana is a 1992 graduate of the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. Lukemeyer earned her J.D. from Southern Methodist University in 1994 and is active in the Indianapolis Bar Association, Indianapolis Inn of Courts, and the Teen Court Program. The opinions expressed in this column are the authors’.