Several weekends ago, we set out to cover our next installment of our “Close to Columbus” feature where we explore nearby vacation getaways that allow Columbus residents to get out of the city without the need to travel too far. This time we set our sights on Indian Lake, located 75 miles northwest of Columbus. Indian Lake offers a variety of relaxing activities including boating, skiing, fishing and camping, all in a very laid back and slow-paced atmosphere.
First, a quick disclaimer… a friend set up our stay in a house on the lake, so our lodging expenses were covered for this trip. I was a bit skeptical at first in doing this review after all of the recent hullabaloo about Tastecasting. I figured what we were doing here would be considered acceptable because of three main factors. First, the place we stayed was a friend of a friend’s house, so it’s not for rent, and so we’re not reviewing the “free” part. Secondly, we’re being upfront and honest, and hopefully will be viewed as objective about our experience. (More on that when you get down to the restaurant review.) And thirdly, we’re not assaulting your various communication channels with this information. It’s just this one review… but feel free to stop reading right now if you find any of this unacceptable. Otherwise, let’s proceed.
We drove up to Indian Lake on a Friday afternoon. Indian Lake (and Indian Lake State Park) is located roughly an hour and a half northwest of Columbus. It’s a pretty straight shot up route 33, so it’s very easy to find. The lake is actually a reservoir created in the 1850s, so it’s partially considered man-made. The lake and it’s various amusement park and dancehall buildings were a major attraction in Ohio throughout the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, but has since declined into more of a laid back recreational spot where Ohioans can escape for a bustle-free weekend.
As I mentioned before, we stayed in someone’s vacation home right on the water that is typically not for rent to the public. There are a wide variety of places for rent all around the lake though, ranging from smaller intimate cabins to larger buildings that can accommodate larger groups. Our friend who helped to set this up would probably be a good contact person for anyone looking to spend a weekend on the lake. Her name is Beth Bice (email: firstname.lastname@example.org), and she is the former owner of Oldfield’s on Fourth here in Columbus. She moved up to Indian Lake a few years ago to sell real estate, so she could probably also help you find a second vacation home there there as well. And thus ends our shameless promotional plug for Beth.
On Saturday morning, we slept in late, made breakfast at the cabin, and then set out on a short 20 minute drive down to Bellefontaine to visit Blue Jacket Dairy, a great local dairy farm known for their cheeses. We were originally turned on to their products by several Columbus Underground regulars who often sing the praises of their offerings at the North Market and other Columbus Farmers Markets. Their retail shop consists of a small room next to their production facility where you can taste test fresh cheeses and watch the process through large interior windows. Tours are available upon special request, but they prefer that you call ahead to schedule them, so we weren’t able to participate on the tour. We did try a few cheeses and purchased a package of their Gretna Grilling Cheese and a container of their Sure Shot Garlic Quark. Both are delicious and were worth the drive.
The Annual Harvest Festival was taking place in Indian Lake State Park during the weekend of our visit, so we decided to spend part of our afternoon exploring the festival. The vast majority of the space was taken up with craft vendors, with just a few food vendors, a single music stage, and a couple of children’s activities. Nothing overly exciting, but a fun way to spend an afternoon walking around. Due to some rain earlier in the day, they had to cancel the hot air balloon portion of the festival this year, which we were sad to miss out on.
For dinner, we headed over to Captain’s Point and Pub, located on the southwest side of the lake. Our vacation host Beth was kind enough to give us a $50 gift card to the restaurant, which we split four ways with our other vacation guests, so our dinner was discounted a bit, but not free. The decor of the restaurant, both inside and out, is packed with seashore kitsch, which was a fun departure from reality knowing that Indian Lake was never really big enough to require the lighthouses or giant wooden captain’s wheels that are prevalent in the restaurant’s theme. We were seated at a table right in front of a small stage where Columbus local duo Rhythm Method was performing. The music was loud enough to add ambiance to the place without being too overpowering and allowing us to still converse at our table without shouting.
Our party of four started off with an appetizer of Crispy Calamari ($7.95), served in a huge portion that was more than enough for all four of us. The breading was bit under seasoned, and the marinara dipping sauce was pretty basic, but the overall flavor was decent enough.
Anne and I both ordered soups as well. She picked the French Onion ($5), and I picked the Lobster Bisque ($7). Shortly after ordering I noticed that someone at the table next to us had ordered the bisque, and the portion was just as huge as the calamari. I knew right then that this was going to be a reoccurring theme throughout the meal.
Our entrees materialized next before the soups arrived, and we had to ask our waiter to have them brought out later. He apologized, and I considered canceling my soup after realizing that the portions were so large, but I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to taste everything for the sake of reviewing.
I ordered the Fish and Chips ($13), which actually turned out to be Fish and Crisps. Three large beer-battered fillets of cod greeted me, probably each weighing a pound. The flavors were alright, if not a bit on the bland side. My assumption was that the fish was previously frozen, and I’m not even sure if they were breaded in-house or shipped in pre-breaded. I figured that I would be able to score with a fried fish dish, but I was mostly underwhelmed. The potato chips were house made, and pretty decent though.
Anne ordered the Broiled Sea Scallops ($18), which were cooked nicely. Her dish came with a side of sugar snap peas and garlic mashed potatoes. One of our dining companions ordered the same entree but with a baked potato. The waiter said the sugar snap peas were a house special, but Anne found them to be a bit overcooked and covered in too much sauce. Our other dining companion ordered the Shrimp Morada ($16), a mix of sauteed shrimp with scallions, onions, mushrooms and Cajun spices over a spicy wild rice. He felt the dish failed by being too salty. The restaurant is kept quite dark, so my photos didn’t turn out too well.
Our soups arrived shortly after our entrees, and ended up being a bit on the disappointing side. Anne thought her French Onion Soup was pretty standard, and my Lobster Bisque had a very pre-packaged taste to it. I don’t know if it was made fresh on site, but it really tasted like any other pre-made bisque heated up and served.
The portion sizes were huge and we were only able to finish half our of our entrees. Our dinner guests seemed to have the same hit-or-miss experience with their dishes citing a few items as being tasty while other parts missed the mark. I think I probably would have come away with a better impression of the restaurant had I picked other options from the menu, but I can’t honestly recommend the few things that I tried on this single visit. I have to say that the service was friendly though. We decided to skip dessert, and instead headed back to our rental house to make smores on the outside campfire. Always a fun activity for any weekend stay near the lake.
With a casual glance around the Indian Lake area, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of dining options outside of a few fast food staples, and local pizza shops. Captain’s Point might not be the best seafood restaurant in Ohio, but it’s most likely the best non-chain local sit-down restaurant in the immediate area.
The next morning, our hostess Beth came by on her boat to take us out for a spin around the lake. She gave us a tour and pointed out a variety of historic locations, impressive homes for sale and other lakeside landmarks. We pulled up to a public pier on the west side of the lake where several shops could be approached from the water, including The Donut Shop. Beth mentioned that this favorite local spot has been in business for years, and it was a common sight on the weekends to see long lines form outside right as the shop opened for business. We arrived around 11am, but there were still plenty of fresh donuts to choose from. We tried out one of their homemade cinnamon rolls and a pumpkin donut, but the real standout was the bacon-topped maple cream stick. Our server described it as similar to eating french toast with a side of bacon, which I found to be pretty accurate. It was just as delicious as it sounds. Definitely worth visiting whether you’re at the lake, or just passing by on Route 33.
We headed out shortly after arriving back at the house and packing up. Our visit to the lake didn’t include any swimming at the public beaches, as the weather had already turned a bit cold, but it sounds as if there are a variety of year-round activities to keep an Indian Lake visit interesting. Beth told us about boat rental options in the summer as well as folks who head up in the winter for snowmobile riding, ice fishing, and nearby skiiing at Mad River Mountain. One note, if you do go during campfire season and have asthma you may have a bit of trouble breathing – the smoke was pretty strong in the air.
All in all, it was a very pleasant weekend getaway. Far enough away from Columbus to feel like you’re on a real vacation, but close enough that you don’t have to spend too much time in the car to get there.