I grew up in Zionsville we’ll say “a while back” and the main, well really only, hangout was the Dairy Queen (conveniently located next to the Rolls Royce dealership – maybe foreshadowing Zionsville’s future???). Our DQ did not feel like a franchise because you knew everyone who was hanging out there and who worked there. It seemed more like a local place – kind of like Stagg’s Dairy Treats & Restaurant in Rushville – which is family-owned and has been since 1960. The indoor and outdoor décor mirrors a DQ (hence the prior references). The wall photos and awards reveal the restaurant’s community connections and reflect the employees’ dedication to Stagg’s, each other and the community. It is a true hometown treat in itself.
My partner Jeff Baldwin and I stopped by Stagg’s for a late lunch after a hearing in Rush County. It was a nice break from Jeff’s beloved sports radio, which apparently is the only station he subscribes to. Next time, I’m driving, and it will be Oprah radio for three straight hours. Aaaannywhoo, Jeff dug into a traditional cheeseburger – freshly made – and a side of fries. He was all but giddy to find they were crinkle fries! Any meal is more special when accompanied by a chocolate shake – handmade to boot! I kept it traditional, too, with a Coney dog with cheese and onion rings. There was nothing particularly special about either, other than I indulged in such selections and probably have not had such a combo since my DQ days back in Zionsville. Both meals hit the spot, not necessarily out of the park, but provided fun and frivolous calories. What I respected most was that nowhere on the menu could you find “jumbo” or “supersize” or “meal deal,” and that made a fast-food-like experience, less fast-food like.
I will admit, the menu offers quite a variety of options. You could get a wrap, sub or salad with your specification of toppings. It does seem more the setting for traditional fare like the various burgers (such as a pizza burger, salsa burger or mushroom-Swiss burger), dogs (Coney, foot-long, or corndog), or sandwiches (grilled cheese, tenderloins or sloppy Joe). Chicken selections comprise wings, strips or a chicken salad sandwich. Beyond the crinkle fries and onion rings, can you think of a better caloric splurge than “sloppy cheese tater tots?” I can’t. Oh, and they have other sides such as slaw, pepper cheese shotz and applesauce.
If your appetite demands, Stagg’s serves up Manhattans (roast beef and turkey), Swiss steak with mashed potatoes and gravy, and chicken and noodles with mashed potatoes and gravy. Most impressive is the price point – a cheeseburger with fries and my Coney dog and onion rings will cost ya only about 8 bucks. The most expensive items I could find were the Manhattans ringing in at $5.75.
However, what you should stop at Stagg’s for is the dairy treat. Indulge yourself with a parfait, banana split or strawberry shortcake for dessert. The selection goes on to include slushies, floats or freezes. The menu has a “novelty” section that teases with the likes of cherry or butterscotch ice cream bars, toffee bars, fudge bars, Popsicles, Choco Tacos, or old-fashioned orange push-ups. Again, you can stick to the traditional sundaes and pick out a variety of toppings – another special touch of a family-run and familiar place.
You cannot miss Stagg’s Dairy Treats & Restaurant right along SR 52 (3rd Street by then) as you come into town and only about a mile or so out from the courthouse. I give it three gavels, mainly for sprinkling hometown pride coupled with family values on top of this otherwise fast-food joint.•
Fred Vaiana and Jennifer M. Lukemeyer practice at Voyles Zahn & Paul 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 those of the authors.