You can’t really miss Merrillville, Indiana, if you’re tooling along on U.S. 30 in the region. But you could miss its offerings for fun, entertainment, relaxation and good eats if you don’t ease off the highway for a weekend of all of the above.
Sure, it’s pretty close to home—maybe it even is your home—but with staycations a welcome alternative to navigating construction woes, there’s plenty to keep you and everyone else in the car happy, well-fed, and entertained.
First on the weekend agenda: checking in, to one of several hotels ranging from upscale to attractively affordable.
Eminently visible: The Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza. You know, where spotlights illuminate the night sky (see sidebar). Says Deann Patena, Radisson’s director of sales and marketing, “The biggest thing going for our guests is that there’s so much to offer under one roof.” Indeed. There’s Wisecrackers Comedy Club, TJ Maloney’s Irish Pub (live entertainment on the weekends), a family pool, fitness center, and more.
You can also choose Staybridge Suites, a highly rated place to stay and enjoy a free breakfast—or fix your own in the room’s kitchen—then work it off in the fitness room. Marriott’s more modestly priced but pleasant options include Residence Inn (extended stay amenities, too) and Fairfield Inn & Suites. Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton Inn by Hilton get high marks, too, all with free breakfast.
Now head out on the town! Yes, we know: nearby Southlake Mall beckons some shoppers, but for something different, sashay into Fashion Affair Boutique. Sisters Dorine Lumbarkoski and Melissa Sarafin showcase a collection of upscale, trend-right fashions for women, from fine-quality dresses to au courant sportswear and lots of accessories. “We love fashion! We offer outstanding customer service and quality products that give you the opportunity to express yourself,” says Lumbarkoski. Think the whole package, because next door is the sisters’ Hair Salon, so you have “the right combination of apparel and hair designs.”
Amp up the energy at Albanese Candy Factory, where “World’s Best Gummies” are side-by-side with a truly huge variety of candies, including retro faves. You can’t miss the massive chocolate fountain and oughtn’t miss the in-house made chocolates in lots of varieties. Keep the kids away from the chocolate espresso beans, but tuck a few away for energy later. Discover red velvet cherries, cashew caramel patties, toffee almonds, and so much more. And just think, some of the ingredients come from Indiana farmers!
Satisfied you’re well supplied for at-home stashes of sweets (some are sugar-free), it’s time for a nosh. Forget the same-old, same-old, and don’t bypass the strip-mall restaurants. Just see what little jewels keep those in-the-know coming back.
Café Fondue is all things fresh and melt-y, savory and sweet, and you’re the star chef at the table. “Our customers enjoy the fondue experience,” says owner Jaewan Ford.
Who doesn’t love sticking a fork in it? There’s a large variety of main courses, the most popular being the Americana, a four-course dinner including a Gruyere cheese fondue appetizer, Cafe Fondue Salad, main course combo of fillet of chicken and shrimp, and chocolate fondue dessert. Or go for the lobster, scallops, jumbo shrimp and salmon. Meat lovers, the filet is for you.
“The atmosphere is cozy and quiet, with pleasant lighting,” Ford says. Add friendly staff and a nice selection of wines, and it’ll melt your heart, too.
At the Mirage Grill, brothers Ferass and Mazen Safadi are serving up Mediterranean fare, and you can have it all your own way. You pick your own toppings and sauces, and we’re not talking ranch dressing. Their signature dish and customer favorite is the generous chicken shawarma sandwich with garlic sauce. You can choose other sauces: peppernut, garlic-mango, baba ganouj, and more. It’s all "freekeh" good (freekeh: young, roasted wheat touted as a “supergrain”). There’s your healthy, so don’t miss the honeyed baklava dessert, or the gelato in six different flavors.
Scope out the other eateries, too, such as Tapas Café, a fun foray into the cuisine of the Iberian Peninsula. Try hot or cold tapas, paella and other Spanish entrees, and salads. Their pear salad features fresh pears over sangria mixed greens, gorgonzola cheese and crisp walnuts, drizzled with homemade balsamic glaze.
Over at Roxana’s, there’s a similarly intriguing menu that includes adobo chicken and lamb kabobs, savory Medi crepes, and bolani with a choice of Afghan-flavor-infused toppings.
Merrillville is one discovery after another. How many can you experience in a weekend?