Text and Photos
By Loren Shaum
AVILLA — A half-hour drive east of Lake Country is the village of Avilla. Tucked off any main drag, there’s a single stop light at the intersection of old SR 3 and Albion Street. Not much happens here, except there is a place that brings folks from afar.
St. James Restaurant
This is easily the best restaurant in Noble County. Established in 1878, this award-winning, historical restaurant is the also the oldest in Northern Indiana.
Jonathon James moved to the area in 1860, and 18-years later, he built the St. James Hotel. By 1948, the hotel had turned into a dilapidated tavern, but the Freeman family rescued the property. In 1979, they expanded the dining room, and in 1983, the upstairs hotel area was turned into an 80-seat banquet room. In 1991, a new bar was added — custom designed by a local wood carver and based on circa 1870’s architecture.
The Freeman family retain the friendly atmosphere that has become famous in those parts. Pre-COVID, the restaurant was open for breakfast, but since then they switched to only lunch and dinner. They may reopen for breakfast in the future.
The menu is extensive and has something for everyone. To start, there are a litany of ‘sharables’. There are 10 items, plus a sampler plate. The onion rings are stellar!
There are five salads, and you can choose from 10 dressings, of which, three are house-made. The house salad with house-made vinegar and oil is outstanding.
They always have chicken-noodle and ham and bean soup. The latter is full of flavor and as good of any bean soup I’ve had! A cup of this excellent porridge is on the agenda for almost every visit.
They have 16 sandwiches listed with a couple you don’t see elsewhere. One, called ‘brawurst’ is a take on classic German bratwurst. The other is their house-made pork sausage sandwich. Served with sides of German mustard and horseradish-cream sauce and topped with sauerkraut, it’s definitely worth having again.
For dinner (served after 4 p.m.), the menu includes six steaks, with the rib-eye being one of the more popular. There’s also a whopper, 16-ounce prime rib seasoned with their special spice blend.
There are eight fish/seafood choices, featuring two, 6-ounce lobster tails, but the North Atlantic cod is highly popular. On an earlier visit, I had the cod sandwich, and it was very light and flakey. It was so tender, it was hard to keep the sandwich together.
Other dinner items include ribs, their famous broasted chicken and Faroe Island salmon. They used to have an interesting selection of German dishes, including schnitzel, but no more!
They also have a section called “platters,” which are plates of the more popular menu items with sides. There are 10 sides to choose from.
Desserts are another matter. They make their own pies. On one visit, there were seven pies including fresh strawberry pie (served when berries are in season). You must have a slice! The peach pie is also top-shelf.
If pie isn’t to your liking, there are cheesecakes with the Snickers cheesecake being interesting.
To finish, there are several ice cream choices.
Draft beers are featured at the rustic bar. Six are currently on tap, and they rotate frequently; however, on one visit, they served a wonderful cream ale from Guessworks Brewery in Albion.
The restaurant has served as many as 200 customers in a day. Friday and Saturday are the busiest, but Monday has become popular for their Monday night special.
St. James is well worth the road trip. The ambience is nostalgic. The service is impeccable, and there’s so much to choose from — making Avilla another luscious location!
St. James Restaurant is at 204 E. Albion St. Phone is (260) 897-2114. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.