Restaurant Renewal

New owners convert lodge hall
into Cajun restaurant

1894 Lodge features dishes prepared by
Chef William Miller

NEW WASHINGTON, IND. (July 2015) – A 121-year-old former schoolhouse in the sleepy village of New Washington, Ind., is probably the last place anyone would look to find an authentic Cajun-Creole-style restaurant.
Named for the year it was built, the 1894 Lodge restaurant, located at 409 E. Main St., is the new culinary home for chef William “Zoom” Miller and, if he has his way, it is there to stay. It is the former location of A Step Back restaurant.

Photo by Phyllis McLaughlin

The father-daughter team of chef William “Zoom” Miller and Cassidy Miller operate the Cajun style restaurant 1894 Lodge in New Washington, Ind.

Miller, 62, runs the kitchen in what owners Kevin Nowlin, Greg Hostettler and Kevin Wiggam, all New Washington natives, hope will be a “destination” restaurant that will draw travelers from all over to the renovated three-story building at the center of town. Miller’s daughter, Cassidy, also helps manage the day-to-day operations.
Filled with treasures from the time it was a movie theater and later a community museum, the building is as much a feast for history buffs as it is for “foodies.” There is so much to see in the building that a visitor could forget it’s also a restaurant.
Well, that’s until you smell the food and look over the menu.
Miller, who worked in nightclubs in Louisville before he discovered his passion for cooking, describes his menu as a mix of Americana and Gulf Coast cuisine.
“Cajun, with a twist,” he said during a lunchtime interview on a rainy Saturday in June. “Everything is made from scratch. We make our own breads, rolls and cheesecakes.”
Dishes are prepared with only the freshest ingredients, and almost everything is made when ordered. Nothing is prepared in advance to be warmed up, he said.
Miller also offers “chef’s specials” each week. Usually, he doesn’t know until that day what the special will be. Recently, he served up crab cakes. “Everyone went nuts for it,” he said.
The same is true with items on the Sunday breakfast-to-lunch buffet, served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The buffet, of course, includes the usual breakfast fare of eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy, and casseroles. “But every week, the rest of it is different,” Miller said. “It’s fun, because we get really creative with it. I encourage the crew to be creative, too.”

Photo by Phyllis McLaughlin

The inside of the 1894 Lodge Restaurant has a rustic feel, judging by the wooden tables and chairs.

Miller first learned his trade when he signed up for an intensive 30-day crash course in restaurant cooking that was offered by the Louisville Restaurant Association. After that, “I followed a girl to Bardstown (Ky.),” he said with a sly smile.
That’s where he got a job cooking with John Hall of the famed Dagwood’s restaurant. “He really taught me to think outside the pan,” Miller said.
He later went to work at Old Talbot Tavern and had his own catering business, which was hired to cater the Jim Beam 200th Anniversary picnic. For nine years, he was head chef at the Sunset Marina Resort on the Tennessee side of Dale Hollow Lake.
He moved to New Washington two years ago to be with his family, which includes his daughter, Cassidy, who works with him as restaurant manager.
It was early in his career that Miller took an interest in Cajun and Creole cooking. He spent several months in the bayous of Louisiana and the streets of New Orleans to learn how to make authentic dishes. “When I cook it, I cook it for real. It passes the muster of folks who know it.”
He blends his own “secret recipe” seasonings and creates his own pepper sauces, with peppers grown in his own garden.
Contrary to popular belief, he said, Creole and Cajun foods aren’t necessarily spiced to be flaming hot, as most people in the north expect. While some dishes are supposed to have a real “kick,” he said most dishes “should have a lot of personality, not just heat.”
For people who like more conservative fare, Miller has created his version of the Hoosier Pork Sandwich: a boneless tenderized pork loin marinated in buttermilk and garlic, coated with flour and cracker crumbs and fried to a golden brown.
The food has met with accolades from the locals, including Stan Martin and his daughter, Maggie, who said her favorite item on the menu is the deep-fried Mini Corn Dogs.
“It’s a nice establishment for the area,” said Stan Martin, who lives in town just two blocks away. “We needed it.”
“The food is outstanding,” raved James Hostettler, partner Greg Hostettler’s father, as he devoured Miller’s most recent creation: BLT Soup. At 82, the elder Hostettler said he was born and raised in New Washington. He played in front of the building as a child and saw many movies there when it was a theater.
“I never thought I would be able to live in New Washington and have the type of food this guy is serving,” he said. “You’ll kill for that cheesecake.”
Open for just three months, Miller said the biggest hurdle for the restaurant has been finding experienced cooks and wait staff. He said he hopes patrons will be patient as service continues to improve.
“The crew is coming together, but we still need a lot of help,” he said. “Not everyone can do this. It’s difficult, demanding, hard work.”

• For more information about the restaurant, visit the 1894 Lodge on Facebook or call (812) 628-9006.

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