Eat comfort food in Indiana, the state with a “weird proclivity for cafeterias”

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Strawberry pie, blueberry pie, cherry pie. Fluffy lemon meringue and gooey, crunchy pecan. Chocolate cream, banana cream, coconut cream, all piled high with gravity-defying layers of whipped topping.

I’ve never forgotten the lineup of pies at Gray Brothers Cafeteria in Mooresville, Indiana, 10 miles south of Indianapolis International Airport. As a child growing up in nearby Bloomington, an excursion to Gray Brothers, where there’s always pie for dessert, was an extra special treat. And it’s the pie that still draws me to this Indiana institution whenever I’m back in the Hoosier state.

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With more than 400 seats behind its limestone facade with a steeply pitched roof and dark wood beams, Gray Brothers, which opened in 1944, is just one of the cafeteria-style restaurants that remain popular across Indiana. As Indianapolis-based author Sam Stall notes, “Indiana seems to have this weird proclivity for cafeterias.”

Indiana has plenty of old-school diners, like The Oasis in Plainfield or Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington, serving all-day breakfasts alongside classic Hoosier dishes like pork tenderloin sandwiches, the fried breaded meat overflowing out of its bun. The state has soul-food restaurants drawing on Black culinary traditions and all-you-can-eat buffets, including the Amish-owned Blue Gate Restaurant in Shipshewana, where for one price, you can fill up on soups, roast beef and mashed potatoes.

Hand of young girl about to touch a meringue pieIt’s hard to resist the selection of pies in Indiana’s cafeterias © Westend61 / Shutterstock

But for many Hoosiers, like Stall and me, cafeterias hold a special place in our hearts. You pick up a tray and slide it along the metal railing, and the…

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