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TRAVELER'S TASTE

On the Ohio River, a safe culinary bet

Email|Print| Text size + By David Maloof
Globe Correspondent / March 16, 2005

AURORA, Ind. -- After spending a few hours at the Grand Victoria Casino & Resort in Rising Sun, we knew we were still gambling when we decided to have dinner at Applewood Food & Spirits in nearby Aurora.

People in Rising Sun and Lawrenceburg had recommended this restaurant along the Ohio River, but we were getting a table 15 minutes before closing. Last-call seatings, even when you phone ahead, can be an invitation to hurried -- if not resentful -- service and cooking.

Our young server did not immediately assuage our concerns. When the other man in our party of four asked about pale ales, the waiter cheerfully acknowledged that he didn't know anything about beer other than the cheap college-student brands he favored.

His suggestion: ''You could go in and ask at the bar."

I wondered if he also might encourage us to pick up our orders from the kitchen. But while the server's manner initially teetered between casual and lax, he turned out to be prompt, and the service was unhurried, even though a full moon had been hanging for hours over the Ohio.

And the food the waiter served suggested that some gambles can pay off. From our appetizer of teriyaki chicken wings through entrées of blackened chicken with pasta, grilled steak salad, pork loin and mashed potatoes with a pepper gravy, and his recommended Boursin-filled filet mignon, everything except a lone, undercooked baked potato was perfect.

In cooler months, the 1884 building offers indoor seating for 200 on two floors, with two fireplaces and two full bars.

In warmer months, the upstairs and downstairs decks bring diners close to the river, as well as to games of cornhole, a popular regional pastime in which participants try to toss a beanbag into a hole cut into a slanted board. It's harder than it sounds, and our fun-loving waiter was eager to challenge us.

He was a pro. No money, I am happy to say, was wagered.

Applewood's riverside location offers regional ambience, but also risk: The restaurant, now in its 11th year, almost flooded in January, and did flood in March 1997 when 5½ feet of water filled the main dining room and closed the restaurant for 30 days.

Sometimes the restaurateurs, not the diners, are the ones taking the gamble.

Applewood Food & Spirits, 215 Judiciary St., Aurora, Ind. 812-926-1166. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11-11 Friday-Saturday, 11-9 Sunday. Hours may differ in winter, so call ahead. Entrées are $10.95 to $24.95.

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