Indiana’s Top Chefs, Summer Edition: Story Inn

By Elizabeth Granger

Eric Swanson, Story Inn 

NASHVILLE, Ind. – Eric Swanson served lunch to an Indianapolis couple on a bright, warm day in late May. One dined on duck breast with a salad of arugula, radishes and strawberries, the other on a ribeye steak with a spinach salad. They shared a plate of Story crackers with garlic-infused ricotta. All of the dishes were garnished with delicate thyme flowers. Swanson had picked the vegetables less than an hour earlier.

It’s one of his perks as executive chef at Brown County’s Story Inn. “I love spring vegetables,” Swanson says. “The first-on produce of the season, there’s something about the pureness of it.” There are vegetable gardens on site with plans to add more.

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It wasn’t always about food for this creative chef, however. That imaginative side took the form of a bachelor’s degree in English from Indiana University with plans for an advanced degree and college teaching. “I deceived myself thinking I was going to grad school,” Swanson confesses. “Along the way I got a job as a dishwasher.” And he worked his way up from there, crediting knowledgeable staffs and sharing work environments for his advancement. He even created his own cornbread recipe while still classified as a dishwasher. It was a hit with diners.

But Swanson wasn’t quite ready for the restaurant life. He even tried farming but was up against it with a drought and bad back, so he returned to the kitchen. “I knew I was in it for good,” he says. More training followed at the highly-acclaimed Restaurant Tallent in Bloomington under award- winner David Tallent as well as at Bloomingfoods and at McCormick’s Creek State Park.

Swanson has been at the Story Inn for two years where he continually develops menu ideas, building on what he calls New American cuisine with classical French roots that branches out to use local foods.

Story Inn co-owner Jacob Ebel says he wants “to put Story back on the map” as a historic lodging and culinary destination, to “re-create an authentic destination that will take people off- guard. We want the culinary experience to be one of the driving factors of what Story is.”

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The entire Story experience comes as a surprise to first-time visitors. First there’s the thought that they might have taken a wrong turn, since Story is 10 miles off State Road 46 on narrow, winding 135. And the sight of the “dilapidated” general store – 100 years old this year – does a great job of hiding the high-end dining surprise inside. If it’s a secret, it’s one that’s getting out.

Story Inn
6404 State Road 135 NASHVILLE, IND.
(812) 988-2273