Edible Indy Summer 2016 : Page 20

Sassafras On December 3, 1960, the FDA determined safrole (liquid typically extracted from the root-bark or the fruit of sassafras plants in the form of sassafras oil) was carcinogenic and could no longer be used in mass-produced commercial foods. The history and background of sassafras is terribly interesting, and while I could go on in great detail about its uses by American Indians, in culinary endeavors and its importance to wildlife, that would spoil the fun of having you research all about it in your spare time. Watson said. “It’s Morris’s original recipe and it’s made in the basement every day.” And how much root beer exactly do they pump upstairs to satisfy their customers’ thirst? A lot. We’re talking 300 gallons a day in the summer-time. This root beer is made with a combination of sugar, water and root beer base syrup (according to Watson there are about 21 base flavors several companies sell). It’s made in 150-gallon batches. Watson says you can add other ingredients to this mixture to create a certain flavor, as well. And, most places don’t even make their own root beer anymore. This is because it’s hard to even buy the stainless steel tanks the root beer is stored in, stirring the concoction so it doesn’t clog the lines to make its way upstairs is no easy task and the sugar-to-carbonated-water ratio is hard to master. So how did Watson, an electrician by trade, learn to make root beer? Well, it was seemingly by accident. He used to make electrical repairs at the Mug–n–Bun location before he bought it, and then one day he found himself standing with Mays in the basement, mixing and stirring a sticky-sweet formula, and Watson thus became indoc-trinated into the world of making Mug–n–Bun root beer. But, don’t be fooled: Root beer isn’t the only amazingly delicious item you can get at Mug–n–Bun. They have 90 items on the menu, so there’s something for everyone. Whether it’s hand-cut Vidalia onion rings dipped by hand and cooked in high-quality canola oil, Coney dogs with their special chili-flavored sauce or a Super Burger (double cheeseburger with bacon), it’s all “cooked to order, right then and there,” according to Watson. And, it’s all about family at Mug–n–Bun. While Watson claims to be enjoying quasi-retirement (I find that hard to believe from a man who literally spent every day of his life there for 10 years after he bought it), he has had his nephews, son-in-law, aunt, nieces and other family working for him over the years. And when I asked him about the future of this small, yet mighty, American through-and-through establishment, what did he say? “We will continue to provide the best customer service and give a good-quality meal … unless they close 10 th street.” Find Mug–n–Bun at 5211 W. 10 th St. in Speedway. Hours vary by season. Info: Mug-N-Bun.com A depiction of Triple XXX today in West Lafayette, just steps from the Purdue University campus. TRIPLE XXX FAMILY RESTAURANT, WEST LAFAYETTE “We were here before your mother was born.” You can find this sen-tence on the Triple XXX (said “Triple X,” no need to get excessive with the Xs and look like a tourist) Family Restaurant website, and it’s most likely true. And back before your mother was born, in 1929, the Triple XXX Family Restaurant wasn’t yet known by that name—it was the Triple XXX Thirst Station, selling root beer by the same name. At one time, there were over a 100 Thirst Stations throughout the United States and in Canada. The West Lafayette location is the only one remain-ing, and it still sells that original, pure cane sugar root beer which was originally made by the Galveston Brewing Company in Texas in 1895. But due to stringent laws passed in Texas, the brewery had to change its name and then branded and sold a large line of flavored drinks—including root beer, strawberry, cream soda and grape—un-der the name Triple XXX. Now, let’s talk about the root beer’s (and the restaurant’s) name, as it might make you raise an eyebrow. It refers to quality. “It’s not unlike a Triple AAA grading system you would see on sugar or gunpowder,” says Greg Ehresman, co-owner since 2008. “It used to be good was one X, better was two Xs, best was three Xs.” So, basically, the Triple XXX Family Restaurant in West Lafayette, steps from Purdue University’s campus, has root beer that is nine times better than the best grade a food brand can get, right? And not only is the root beer good, Guy Fieri, host of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” has been there, so this place must be worth it’s salt, right? These both seem to be true, but the most important thing to the current owners is much more than root beer and diner food. “The Triple XXX has real and legitimate history,” says co-owner Carrie Ehresman, Greg’s wife. And in the basement of this tiny last vestige of a Thirst Station, you can find that legit history. This is where root beer was made—with a stainless steel paddle that hangs in the Triple XXX World Headquar-ters (as Greg calls it) today, which is just steps away from the actual restaurant—until 1974. And then, between 1974 to around 1998, they were unable to get the syrup to hand mix the root beer and had so serve an off-brand. Also during this time, in 1980, Greg Ehres-man’s parents (who met at the restaurant) bought the Triple XXX and Greg came back to run it. And one of his goals was to resurrect that old-fashioned root beer. 20 edible INDY summer 2016

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