FORTVILLE – This is the restaurant that Jane built. Or, at least, influenced.
Meet Jake Burgess, Jane’s son. He’s owner and chef at FoxGardin Kitchen & Ale in Fortville. And is quick to talk about how influential his mother has been in his choice of careers.
So influential that Jane Teagardin Burgess is honored as the “Gardin” in FoxGardin. Burgess’s business partner, Toby Shelton, honored his mother, too – Teresa Fox Shelton is the “Fox” in FoxGardin.
A couple of seemingly ordinary guys with strong ties to their families and to old-fashioned values, but with a modern, upscale twist.
Burgess grew up in Fortville, then a small rural community in Hancock County where he’d play outside with his buddies. “My friends called me ‘Little House on the Prairie’ when I was growing up because I’d have to be home every day at 5 p.m., no matter where I was, because Mom had supper on the table,” he says. “We’d be in the middle of a ballgame and I knew ‘I gotta’ go.’ I’d get home, eat supper, run back and say, ‘Where were we?’ And we’d continue the game.”
Burgess started working at 15, in the food business – at Mozzi’s Pizza in Fortville. His first day of work was 9/11.
He went off to Ball State to study hospitality. But after three years, he knew it wasn’t for him. He had continued to work in the food industry, graduating to fine dining. On his 21st birthday, he moved to Valdosta, Georgia, “to spread my wings.”
“I think Southern-style cooking is homey and family-oriented,” Burgess says. “I worked for some talented Southern-style-cooking chefs, in scratch kitchens, in really nice restaurants – and expanded my cooking.”
And then he returned to Indiana, to an upscale Indianapolis restaurant where he honed his skills in fine dining.
One day, when visiting his parents in Fortville, Burgess saw that a downtown building was available, and he jumped at the chance to open his own restaurant. “I’d worked for somebody long enough,” he says. “I figured I could sleep in the restaurant and eat the food there if I had to.”
He called his Ball State roommate and asked him to be his business partner. Shelton also worked in the food industry, starting as a busser and moving up to management. His degree in hotel and restaurant management was the perfect complement to Burgess’s culinary skills. They opened FoxGardin, a 21+ restaurant/bar in downtown Fortville, in 2015.
It’s for adults only because of the building’s layout, which makes it impossible to create separate bar and family dining areas. So now there’s also FoxGardin Family Kitchen, for the entire family, at 104th and Olio Road.
Much of the original FoxGardin décor pays tribute to not only the building’s history but also to local history. “Everything in the restaurant has a story,” Burgess says. Table tops from local barn wood, the original tin ceiling, 48-star American flags – a rustic Americana feel in a building from about 1890. Even trains that rumble through town, whistles blowing, several times a day.
The menu still has that Southern touch – fried chicken is accompanied by hot honey – but choices are expanded with perfect hand-cut filet mignon, the Fortville tenderloin, walleye, lobster, pork, duck. Comfort food, elevated.
As for dessert, the stars are pies made by Burgess’s mother. Most popular are sugar cream, bourbon pecan, and key lime. ”Everybody talks about Jane’s pies,” Burgess says. “She’s become a local celebrity.”
The restaurant doesn’t have a freezer, so what comes in daily goes out daily. The menu changes often, taking advantage of local foods in season.
FoxGardin has, Burgess says, that “I’m home” feeling. Fine dining in a pub atmosphere with live music several nights a week. A destination restaurant, “where Nashville (Tennessee) meets small town.”
“Everybody has a favorite room, a favorite seat, a favorite table,” Burgess says. “We know where people sit, we know what they like, we know when they’re coming in…. Everybody thinks FoxGardin is their own little secret.”
FoxGardin Kitchen & Ale
215 S. Main St.
Fortville, IN 46040